Citizens Advice reveals impact of pandemic in St Albans district

St Albans Citizens Advice has revealed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the district.

St Albans Citizens Advice has revealed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the district. - Credit: Matt Adams

The district's Citizens Advice team saw a threefold increase in the number of people contacting them about redundancy issues during the pandemic, the organisation has revealed.

Over 1,300 people sought help with employment concerns during the period April 2020 to March 2021, but these were just a fraction of the 8,000 the service helped over this time.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions have had a substantial impact on businesses, particularly in service industries such as retail and hospitality, which provide a large number of jobs in the district.

Citizens Advice advised three times as many clients about redundancy issues in 2020/21 compared to the previous year, with the surge in the number of people claiming welfare benefits boosting demand for advice on eligibility, how to make a claim and how to contest an award.

Since the onset of the pandemic there has been a 119 per cent increase in the number of people receiving Universal Credit in St Albans, with a peak in unemployment of 3,765 in August 2020 compared to 1,400 in December 2019 and 3,520 in March of this year.

As a result of the pandemic, more people in the district are reliant on state welfare payments now than at any time in the last quarter of a century.

Although St Albans is a relatively prosperous part of the country, it still contains areas of relative deprivation, and a disproportionate amount of their clients come from these communities, highlighting how the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities.

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The spread of Covid deaths over the past year has not been even across the district, with four times as many deaths in the worst affected area (Cottonmill and Sopwell with 28) compared to the least badly hit (Wheathampstead with just 7).

Although the district has experienced a below average number of cases of coronavirus – 52 per 1,000 population, compared to 64 per 1,000 for the rest of the county; it has recorded 2.1 deaths per 1,000 – in line with the average for Herts.

June Chapman, chief executive at Citizens Advice St Albans District, said: “Since the start of the first lockdown, we have helped thousands of people with their problems and this gives us a unique insight into the effect of the Covid pandemic on local people.

"The biggest impact, beyond the loss of lives and other health issues, has been on those people who have lost their jobs and we have seen a surge in people seeking our help with employment issues, in particular relating to being made redundant.

"Many of these people suffered a sharp fall in their income and had to apply for welfare benefits for the first time in their lives. This can be a confusing process for some and we helped them with their claims for Universal Credit and other benefits.

"Unfortunately, as the furlough scheme is wound down in coming months, there are likely to be further job losses and we expect to be helping many more people with employment and benefit issues.”

Case studies

  • Maya worked in a restaurant in St Albans that had been forced to close in the first lockdown. Her employer told her that she was furloughed and continued to pay her some money, but she suspected that he was keeping some of the funds from the furlough scheme that she should have received. As a result, she was struggling to pay her bills.
    Citizens Advice helped Maya work out her entitlement under the scheme so that she could tackle her employer and receive the money that she was due.
  • Zara had been working for the same company for more 10 years. While on maternity leave, she was told by her employer that she was at risk of redundancy because the company needed to save money due to a drop in business as a result of the pandemic.
    However, she knew people who still worked for the company and they told her that they were very busy and that the company had been recruiting into roles similar to Zara’s.
    Citizens Advice gave Zara information about her rights and provided her with a list of questions to ask her employer at a consultation meeting. They also explained the amount of redundancy pay and notice that she should receive.
    Although, sadly, Zara was made redundant, with their help she received an enhanced redundancy settlement, significantly greater than the statutory minimum.

Coronavirus deaths in areas of St Albans district, March 2020 to March 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics

Cottonmill & Sopwell 28
Bricket Wood & Chiswell Green 23
Townsend & New Greens 22
Verulam Park 22
London Colney 21
Colney Heath & Tyttenhanger 20
Harpenden East 19
Clarence Park 18
The Camp & Cunningham 16
Marshalswick 15
Harpenden Common 14
How Wood & Park Street 13
Jersey Farm & Sandridge 12
Redbourn 12
Harpenden North 11
Harpenden Town 10
Longacres 9
St Albans Central 8
Bernards Heath 8
Wheathampstead 7