Local Campaigns

Discretionary Housing Payments

Discretionary housing payments (DHPs) are payments administered by local authorities to help people whose housing benefit, or housing element of Universal Credit, does not cover the full cost of their rent. DHPs are particularly valuable for people who have been impacted by recent changes to the welfare system, including the benefits cap, which may have left them unable to meet their housing costs.

Because DHPs are administered by local authorities, policies can vary. We investigated the way that DHPs are administered by local authorities across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, examining in particular the claim process and waiting times, the clarity of policies, the treatment of disability benefits as income and local authorities’ engagement with advice providers on DHP decisions.

We found examples of good practice and areas where some local authorities could improve their policies. Among our recommendations are that every local authority should regularly review their DHP policies and make them available on-line; that the time-line for claims should be clear and achievable; and that the process for assessing claims should be easily understandable to applicants.

More details can be found in the full report.

Homelessness

In the six months from April to September 2018 there was a big increase in the number of people coming to Citizens Advice St Albans and District with queries related to homelessness. We conducted an analysis of the characteristics of these people to try to understand the reason for this increase.

Based on our clients, actual and potential homelessness affect men and women equally in St Albans and all age groups from 20 to 60. Actual homelessness affects single people and those without dependents more than couples and families, but almost half of those threatened with homelessness have one or more dependents. Those threatened with homelessness are more likely to be working than unemployed.

Relationship breakdowns, including those involving domestic violence, are the cause of one-third of cases of actual and potential homelessness. However, the biggest cause of threatened homelessness is tenants being told by their landlord to quit the property they are renting.

The large increase in the number of people coming to Citizens Advice in St Albans in the period from April to September 2018 was due to more threatened homelessness among tenants – in private, housing association and council properties – who had been asked to quit their property.

More details can be found in the full report

Post Offices in St Albans – some good news and some not so good news

In March and April 2017, Citizens Advice in St Albans surveyed our clients and conducted a mystery shopping exercise to find out about the level of services that post offices are providing in the area. The results were mixed.

The post office network is currently undergoing its biggest ever restructuring programme – the Network Transformation Programme (NTP), which aims to maintain the size of the network, while placing it on a more stable financial footing. We wanted to find out about the effect of the NTP in St Albans, and what we discovered was that it has brought some benefits to consumers, but that there have been some downsides too.

The biggest benefit has come in the form of longer opening hours. Many of the smaller post offices offer significantly longer opening hours, including on Saturdays and Sundays, than was usual before the NTP began. These smaller post offices offer most of the services that people use most frequently, so this is a very welcome development.
The less good news is that these same smaller post offices sometimes fail to offer the correct service. Our mystery shopping exercise found that some post offices – in particular those without a dedicated staff member dealing with post office services – often make incorrect recommendations, even for relatively simple requests to send an urgent letter or a non-urgent letter with proof of receipt.

It is also regrettable that two post offices have closed in recent years – the one in How Wood in 2015 and the one in Beech Road in 2017. As a result, the distribution of post offices across the city is very uneven.

Post Office Limited is looking for new premises for both these post offices and we would encourage them to do everything they can to restore services to those areas where they have been lost. We also think Post Office Limited should review staff knowledge and training to ensure customers are provided with the correct product and pricing advice.
More details can be found in the full report. See the local news report about this story here