Andrew is an employment and money advice officer who is usually based in our busy office in Stafford. Since March, he has been working from home.
“Our Group is a not-for-profit organisation which tries to make a positive difference. This whole experience has brought home the importance of the services that we provide to local communities and how we all pull together to make that difference. Although I’m one of the people directly helping customers, lots of people in other areas – IT, health and safety, human resources and the leadership team – have made it possible for me to do that safely in these exceptional times.
“We had to act really quickly to ensure that we could continue to provide essential services for customers, many of whom are in a vulnerable position. Many of my colleagues are working differently, including those like me, who are working from home.
“The first few weeks in lockdown were incredibly busy. There were so many calls from tenants who needed to claim benefits for the first time. People were understandably anxious and we were helping them through the process. There were three of us supporting these calls and I personally worked on 50 cases.
“There were a lot of announcements and new initiatives to keep on top of, too, as news came out of government. People wanted to discuss the implications of furloughing and the self employment income support scheme.”
One of the people Andrew spoke to was Lisa, who found the experience of making her first benefits claim very daunting.
“If it wasn’t for Andrew, I don’t know how we would have managed. I am still in employment but my partner has had to stop working because of ill health and my son is furloughed. We were going to struggle to pay our rent and other bills. I didn’t know how to go about making a claim for Universal Credit and when the assessment came through, we found out that I would only receive half the expected amount.
“Andrew has been on the end of the phone every step of the way, talking me through making the claim and helping to get the assessment changed. Yesterday I found out that I will receive the full amount. It’s been such a worrying time and this is a weight off my mind. I’ve never met Andrew; he’s been a voice over the telephone during lockdown but the support he has provided has made such a difference.”
Andrew’s role normally involves advising people who are facing debt, finding it difficult to manage their money or whose circumstances have changed.
“A lot of my work is face-to-face and I’ve needed to find new ways to help. Some parts of my job are a bit more difficult at the moment but for our customers, it’s a lifeline.
“I do miss that more personal contact with customers and colleagues but I’m proud of what we have been able to do in such challenging times. We’ve all learned a lot in quite a short time and perhaps we will be able to take some of that to improve our services in the future.”