From Monday 17th February 2014 our money advice centre opening times are changing. This is in order to accommodate as many clients as possible, reduce waiting times and ensure we can better meet the needs of clients with specific needs.
On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays we’ll be open from 9:15am-12:30pm. You don’t need to make an appointment beforehand, but you do need to come in at 9am to be allocated a slot for the same day. Slots are allocated on a first-come first-served basis so the sooner you arrive the better. You will be told what time an adviser will be seeing you so you can either wait to be seen or you can come back later, it is up to you.
We will also be open on Wednesdays from 9:30am-3:30pm for people with appointments only. You can be given an appointment when you come in or you can telephone us. Not everybody will be given an appointment; appointments will be prioritised based on your circumstances (e.g. if you have an emergency or are unable to come in to the centre) as well as for new clients who have been unable to get a slot on our drop-in days, guaranteeing you will be seen.
For more information about our money advice services please click here.
It’s Debt Awareness Week, the perfect opportunity for re-assessing your finances post-Christmas to find out if you need help, and where to get it.
“The combination of changes to welfare benefits and rising household costs is taking its toll,” says Birmingham Settlement CEO Martin Holcombe. “Our debt advice service has seen record numbers and we now have to turn people away as we just don‘t have the resources to meet the demand.”
Recent figures released by the Money Advice Service paint a similar picture. They report that one in three UK adults is estimated to have started 2014 in debt, and figures released this January for the end of 2013 paint a bleak picture with the average household debt at £6,016 without including mortgages.
“We have put together our top ten tips to help families budget and help them manage their money better. This year, more than ever, people need help controlling their finances” says Martin, they include:
1. Compile a weekly budget and keep to it. Work out your spending limit after bills for food and drink.
2. Cut back on unnecessary expenses. Make shopping lists and do not be distracted by bargains. Ask yourself: “If I didn’t need something this morning, do I really need it now?” Be wary of tempting 2 for 1s on products you did not intend to buy.
3. Buy supermarkets’ own brands, the reduced price is often down to lower spend on packaging rather than lower quality products.
4. Shop online for cheaper items rather than the High Street, but check delivery costs as these can often put up the total costs.
5. Try home-made gifts. If you are looking for a birthday gift, why not bake one?
6. Ensure that you continue to pay your priority debts such as mortgages, rent, and Council Tax, fuel and court fines – if you’re unsure how to order your priorities, speak to a money advice service.
7. Consider applying for financial help if you are in debt and struggling. Birmingham Council has discretionary top-up funds for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. Some utility companies have independent Trust Funds – Severn Trent Water, British Gas, EDF and NPower, for example.
8. Do not spend money that you do not have! But if you need to borrow money, be aware of the interest rate and amount repayable. Payday loans are not cheap.
9. Don’t hold on to unwanted items – eBay them! Whether it’s duplicate wedding gifts, unwanted Christmas presents, or simply clothes you never wear, you could convert your clutter to cash.
Debt is such a big issue now in our society, with many more people than ever before having to deal with the consequences of not having enough money to make ends meet that I wanted to share with you some of our stories.
At the moment we are campaigning and I would like to ask for your support. We are asking politicians to do something tangible that will make a difference for those suffering real financial hardship. The combination of changes to welfare benefits and rising household costs is taking its toll, our debt advice service has seen record numbers and we now have to turn people away as we just don‘t have the resources to meet the demand.
We have suggested a practical measure that could really make a difference. We are asking the energy companies to give every household access to an hour’s supply a day irrespective of debt and personal circumstance – this means if prepayment meters have no credit fuel would still be available for one hour everyday – we suggest between 12 noon and 1 pm. Energy providers (electric and gas) have the technology to make this happen. The residential supply of water cannot be legally disconnected, where as fuel is increasingly disconnected; and to the poorest families in our society. This is wrong! Profit making energy companies need to show social responsibility – support society by putting more back, and now!
Please sign our epetition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign - you can support us by signing the e-petition here.
You can also read more by visiting Birmingham Settlement’s blog here.
With very best wishes for the festive season.
Image thanks to Christine Rutz.
As winter accelerates and the Christmas season approaches, costs can sky-rocket, from heating your home, to buying presents and treats. Here are Birmingham Settlement’s top tips this winter to avoid a financial headache.
1) Compile a Christmas budget and keep to it. Work out your spending limit for presents, food and drink.
2) Cut back on unnecessary expenses. Make shopping lists and do not be tempted by bargains. Ask yourself: “If I didn’t need something this morning, do I really need it now?” Be wary of spending in the post-Christmas sales.
3) Buy supermarkets’ own brands.
4) Shop online for cheaper items rather than the High Street, but check delivery costs as these can often put up the total costs.
5) Make your own cakes, bread and Christmas decorations!
6) Ensure that you continue to pay your priority debts such as mortgages, rent, Council Tax, fuel and court fines.
7) Consider applying for financial help if you are in debt and struggling. Birmingham Council has discretionary top-up funds for Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support. Some utility companies have independent Trust Funds – Severn Trent Water, British Gas, EDF and NPower, for example.
8) Do not spend money that you do not have! But if you need to borrow money, be aware of the interest rate and amount repayable. Payday loans are not cheap.
9) Check that you are receiving your correct benefits. You can use online benefit assessors such as “Entitledto”.
10) Write a New Year’s Resolution to control your spending and open a savings or credit union account.
And don’t forget, Birmingham Settlement has begun an e-petition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign – you can support us by signing the e-petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/56536
Fifty may be the new thirty but increases in the cost of living and the rise of the Bank of Mum and Dad is making life harder for many that thought they would be financially secure in their 50s, according to Mark Greveson of Birmingham Settlement.
Mark’s comments come a few days before the 50+ Show comes to the NEC for the first time. The 50+ Show is aimed at active people who want to make the most out of life and is the largest of its kind in the UK. There will be hundreds of exhibitors, from travel companies to wine merchants, with seminars throughout the event providing advice and entertainment to attendees.
Mark will be giving a seminar on financial health on each day of the exhibition, entitled ‘Keeping financially fit in an age of austerity’, which covers, ‘ways to keep your budget healthy’, and, ‘slimming down your debt’. Mark has extensive experience of dealing with all kinds of debt from his role of Financial Inclusion Manager for Birmingham Settlement.
“I deal with financial issues everyday, and there is definitely an increase in the 50+ age range. Adults who felt certain their pension plan was safe and they would be secure are now realising how little interest they get on their savings and in some cases how their children’s economic difficulties are stretching them,” says Mark.
“It’s a trickle up effect,” Mark explains. “The recession means that many pensioners are now supporting their adult children, and possibly even their grandchildren too – so what once seemed like a healthy retirement fund is dwindling.”
The 50+ Show typically attracts thousands of visitors, and as well as dispensing financial advice, Mark will be using the time to promote the work of Birmingham Settlement.
“We are always looking for supporters and volunteers at Birmingham Settlement, so this may also be a great opportunity to introduce our work to people who could be in a position to help.”
The 50+ show is at the NEC on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th December 2013. Visit http://www.50plusshow.com/birmingham/birmingham.htm for more information.
Or you can download a programme below:
Like many others I’ve been watching the debate about energy company profits and price rises. I find myself disillusioned with the whole thing; I feel helpless and outside of the discussion; I don’t feel I have a voice and neither do the people I work with. Individuals are of little relevance or consequence – it’s about the wants of corporate finance, majority shareholding institutions concerned more with money than the needs of people. Those on the margins don’t matter, dividends do!
Whilst politicians consider whether levels of profit are too high or if it should be made easier to switch supplier, what I and my colleagues know, and can evidence, is that many people are suffering real hardship. One of the services we run at Birmingham Settlement is a debt advice service and the numbers of people coming to us for advice has spiralled this year. Yesterday we had 53 people through our door seeking financial help and advice – the largest number we’ve ever had in a single day.
I would like politicians and energy company CEOs to spend time with some of the people who through circumstance beyond their control cannot afford the fuel needed to heat their homes or cook their food. We work in partnership with others such as food banks to provide support where it is most needed and I’m afraid a response we are increasingly hearing from clients is ‘there’s no point, I can’t afford the fuel to cook the food’.
I was involved in a discussion a few days ago about whether the UK was the 5th, 6th or 7th largest economy in the world – it seemed to depend on which report you read; the discussion went on to whether it was right for people to be limited to three food parcels per family, irrelevant of circumstance. I was amazed that the idea of food banks now seems to be an acceptable concept, everyday language – is it really acceptable in 2013 that the second largest city in one of the biggest economies in the world has such a problem; that its own citizens cannot cook the contents of a food parcel because they have no fuel?
I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the most basic human life needs include food, drink, shelter, warmth – how on earth can we expect people to grow and prosper if they can’t cook a meal?
Winter is almost on us and for too many this means additional hardship as they will not be able to meet the costs of soaring fuel bills; they will no doubt face the consequences of not being able to contribute to the billions handed out in dividends to the privileged few.
At Birmingham Settlement we have suggested a practical measure that could really make a difference. We are asking the energy companies to give every household access to an hours’ supply a day irrespective of debt and personal circumstance. This means if prepayment meters have no credit fuel would still be available for one hour everyday – we suggest between 12 noon and 1 pm. Energy providers (electric and gas) have the technology to make this happen. The residential supply of water cannot be legally disconnected, where as fuel is increasingly disconnected; and to the poorest families in our society. This is wrong! Profit making energy companies need to show social responsibility – support society by putting more back, and now!
Birmingham Settlement has begun an e-petition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign – you can support us by signing the e-petition here.
Birmingham Settlement has warned of increased levels of hardship as more and more families struggle to cope with fallout from the economic downturn, welfare reforms and energy price rises. The warning comes as the government calls in top executives from the UK’s largest energy companies to face questions about energy price rises.
There has been fierce criticism of energy prices and the profits made by the energy companies with politicians from all parties offering a number of different solutions. Ed Miliband pledged that Labour would put a hold on gas and electricity price rises if they win the 2015 election and Energy Secretary Ed Davey promises to cut the time it takes to switch energy supplier.
“All well and good” says CEO Martin Holcombe, “But the people we’re working with are so marginalised that these promises have little relevance. If your income has reduced and your electricity or gas has been cut off and costs are rising now – you need action now – what chance have you got for the future? And switching is not really an option for those with severe debt or whose supply has been cut off.”
“Our debt advice service is stretched to the limit” says Martin, “We can’t cope with demand, we’ve seen well over 2,000 people since April and fuel poverty is becoming more and more prevalent as an issue. We work with other agencies including food banks and our advisers have noticed a significant increase in the number of people telling us they don’t have the facility to cook because they have no power – isn’t the facility to cook at leastone meal a day a basic human right?”
According to latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change over 15% of households in Birmingham are facing fuel poverty – one of the worst affected cities in the country; and Ofgem recently reported that while household income between 2009 and 2013 rose by 2.9%; fuel bills have risen by 24%.
Martin says, “There is no doubt that it is the poor who are suffering most from the economic downturn and rising fuel prices. We know the reality for many is that recent welfare reforms have actually reduced income into many of the already poorest households where the ability to save and switch is just not feasible. We need some radical solutions now.”
“Our suggestion which has been well received by many is to provide one hour of electricity or gas a day for all customers from 12noon-1pm – the technology is there via digital smart meters. This proposal will mean one simple thing: every person is able to cook themselves at least one hot meal a day.”
We are launching a “Fuel for food” campaign to make this happen. If you are as outraged as we are then please join us, sign our petition and spread the word.
Our Financial Inclusion Manager, Mark Greveson, has recently attended a meeting with the Welfare Reform Group, which includes local MPs, city councillors and heads of departments such as the DWP. During the meeting we made two recommendations that would massively improve circumstances for people who come to us with financial difficulties. These were:
- Energy providers should offer one hour of free electricity and gas per day for customers. People who access our money advice services often struggle to top up their electricity and gas meters. Without electricity and gas many people are unable to cook food in their own homes. We propose that people who prepayment meters have been disconnected due to lack of funds should be able to have one hour of free electricity and gas a day from 12noon-1pm. This time slot is off-peak, so energy providers won’t face a massive cost from this. This proposal will mean one simple thing: Every person is able to cook themselves one hot meal a day.
- Improve communication between benefits teams to prevent accidental loss of income. When a person’s Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) is cancelled, Jobcentre Plus automatically inform the housing benefit team of the person’s change in circumstances. They then make the assumption that the person has begun work and suspend housing benefit too. In the cases when a person has had their JSA sanctioned and they have in fact not gotten a job, this can lead someone to get into rent arrears with their housing provider very quickly. What many people we work with don’t know is that they are still entitled to claim housing benefit with nil income, so the suspension of housing benefit is simply a mistake. We propose better communication between the two teams; something as simple as informing the housing benefit team the reason for the change would allow them to recognise who is still entitled to the benefit and prevent many people from getting into debt and unnecessarily put at risk of eviction.
Those present at the meeting were very interested in our ideas and pledged to see whether they could be taken forward, a very positive step that may help to improve financial equality in Birmingham and indeed nationally.
Image thanks to Sharyn Morrow.
If you’re struggling financially and find your water bills are too high, try putting filling an ordinary balloon with water and submerging it in the water cistern behind your toilet. This will reduce the volume of the cistern so that it fills with less water and consequently less is used each time you flush, which in the long-run will greatly reduce the water bills you need to pay.
If you are a Severn Trent Water customer with debt for your water bills, you may also be able to access a grant from the Severn Trent Trust Fund to help. For further advice on money issues please come to visit our Community Money Advice Centre.
Birmingham Settlement were recently interviewed by Al Jazeera for a piece about changes in the welfare system and the effects of austerity measures on the people in Birmingham. The report can be watched on the Al Jazeera website here: http://aje.me/1hfAxIC
For help with money issues, including debt and benefits, please contact our Community Money Advice Centre.