A new campaign has been launched to help people worrying about debt in the run-up to Christmas.
"Council staff are always available to provide advice and support to any individuals or families who are experiencing financial challenges," said Cllr Willie Innes
The rent, council tax, benefits and welfare rights teams have joined together to raise awareness of the support available if people are struggling.
The demand for council services increases significantly at this time of year. Rent and council tax arrears commonly peak over the Christmas period as many people are tempted to overstretch their budget and are left picking up the bill in the New Year. Research shows that one third of council tenants have some level of rent arrears, which can escalate quickly and can be difficult to pay off. Contacting council teams at the earliest opportunity means that people can work with staff to prevent longer term problems from occurring.
Head of Council Resources Jim Lamond said: “We know that many people have financial pressures at Christmas and often people are reluctant to come forward and tell us that they are struggling. However continuing to pay rent and council tax across the festive period is crucial. It helps us to meet the demand for more and better services. It also prevents arrears from building, which can then cause further hardship. It’s better to speak to our teams who can offer suggestions and support to anyone who is worried.”
The campaign combines posters in key community locations including libraries and sports centres, local press advertising, radio coverage through East Coast FM, social media posts and information online. The council has also joined together with East Lothian Foodbank with a leaflet outlining the welfare rights support that is available being included in each of charity’s Jingle Bags this December.
Leader of East Lothian Council Councillor Willie Innes said: “I’m pleased that we’re are taking this action to make people aware of the support that is available through our teams of committed staff. Confidential information and advice is available throughout the year yet Christmas can bring particular financial pressures.
“Council staff are always available to provide advice and support to any individuals or families who are experiencing financial challenges, and I would urge anyone who is worried to get in touch and see what is available to help them.”
Some examples of support available include:
- Council Tax Reduction is available to help anyone who is on a low income or out of work to help reduce your Council Tax charge. Last year, over 7,000 households claimed this reduction.
- The Scottish Welfare Fund is available to help families and people who are on low incomes. Assistance can be provided through Community Care Grants which help people live independently and Crisis Grants which provide a safety net in the event of a disaster or emergency.
- There are a number of welfare benefits available to assist people. Calculating welfare benefit entitlements or knowing how to apply can be confusing. Last year the welfare rights team helped 1,672 people to claim £3.7m in welfare benefits, which otherwise would have gone unclaimed.
- From 10 December, if you are pregnant or have recently had a child, you may be eligible for the Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment. This will be delivered by Social Security Scotland and is a one-off payment of £600 for your first child then £300 for each younger sibling. If you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you can apply from the 24th week of your pregnancy up until your child is six months old. Applications are invited online or from the freephone helpline on 0800 182 2222.
- Advice surgeries are held across the county to help people in need. A new surgery has been developed specifically to help anyone claiming Universal Credit who is struggling to manage their household budget under this new benefit. Full details of surgeries are available in libaries, area housing offices and online.
- Home Energy Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government, can help households reduce energy use and save money with its freephone advice line. Advisors offer confidential, impartial advice and support from switching energy supplier to energy saving tips. They can also find out if you’re eligible for any financial support that will help keep you cosy over the colder months, as well as putting people in touch with partner organisations who deal with complex issues around fuel debt. Call 0808 808 2282 or go online.