“Red alert” warning as more turn to Citizens Advice than at any point since pandemic began

More people are seeking one-to-one support from Citizens Advice than at any point during the pandemic. That’s according to stark new figures released today which reveal the enormous pressures facing households even before major increases to energy bills kick in this April.

The charity warns that crisis support - including referrals to food banks and advice on emergency one-off grants - is at the highest level on record. Similarly, advice on managing energy debts has reached unprecedented heights. 

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Cost-of-living pressures are at boiling point. April’s price hikes haven’t yet hit and already people are turning to our services in record numbers.

“Frontline advisers are hearing desperate stories of families living in just one room to keep warm, people turning off their fridges to save money and others relying on hot water bottles instead of heating due to fears about mounting bills.

“Our data has reached red alert levels. If the government doesn’t act soon and bring forward a package of support for those on the lowest incomes, many more households will be pushed beyond breaking point.”

“Unwelcome records” this January

  • In January more than 270,000 people sought one-to-one advice from Citizens Advice, topping a previous high of 265,000 who sought the charity’s help in November 2021. Demand for support is now higher than at any point since the pandemic began

  • A staggering 24,000 people helped by the charity’s advisers required some type of crisis support such as food bank vouchers and charitable payments. This is the highest on record for the charity, passing the previous peak only set in December 2021

  • In total 13% of people supported by frontline staff at Citizens Advice since the new year have needed some form of crisis support

  • The number of people supported with energy debts hit more than 8,000, the highest on record. And debts are rising too, with the average energy debt now standing at £1,450, up from £1,330 in 2020

How to support low-income households through the cost-of-living crisis

To help people weather the cost-of-living crisis, Citizens Advice is urging the government to bring forward a package of measures. 

This includes a one-off grant to help people with energy bills to be paid through the benefits system this April, and an expanded Warm Home Discount scheme for Winter 2022 when prices are due to rise again.

“They just keep taking money from all angles” - mother-of-two Ruth from Sunderland

Ruth, 26, lives in a two-bed house with her two young children. She has found her bills rising uncontrollably over the last few months. 

“I’m struggling to get by, the money just keeps going up and up and up. They just keep taking money from all angles.

“I knew my energy bills were going to go up but didn't realise it would go up this much. This week we’ve been living on rations and I’ve thought about ringing the food bank but it’s half an hour away and I can’t afford a taxi or bus.”

“I’ve had to dip into my rent money just to buy some nappies and washing powder. We’ve been spending most of our time at my Nana’s just for some heating and electricity.” 

“It feels absolutely relentless” - Rebecca Shiers, energy adviser at Citizens Advice Plymouth

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen. The amount of people seeking help and the stories I’m hearing, it feels absolutely relentless.

“I’ve spoken with a widower who’d built up energy debts trying to keep his home warm for his terminally ill wife. He's scared about how he’s to repay those arrears and how he'll cope with further price rises. I've also helped a veteran who can't work due to PTSD. They needed crisis support because rising energy bills are pushing them into the red each and every month.

“I usually spend time with people reviewing and challenging their budgets to see where savings can be made. With prices rocketing for most people I’m getting to the point where there’s nothing left to cut from.”

Notes to editors

  1. Our model of the number of people who sought advice from Citizens Advice in this period is based on data for one-to-one phone advice covering England and Wales. It does not include Citizens Advice consumer service or Witness Service data. Comparison period is defined as April 2020-January 2022. Citizens Advice transitioned to phone and online services when lockdown restrictions were imposed on 23 March 2020. Comparable data on demand for the charity’s services from before April 2020 is not available. This model estimates that over 270,000 people sought advice in January 2022.

  2. Comparable data on one-to-one advice provided with crisis support goes back to 2019. Comparable data on one-to-one advice provided with energy debts is available back to 2014.

  3. Of the estimated over 270,000 people who sought advice in January 2022, Citizens Advice supported just under 181,000. Just over 24,000 of those clients were referred for crisis support. 

  4. The median fuel debt arrears held by people who undertook a debt assessment between 1 January 2021 - 31 December 2021 was £1446. The median fuel debt arrears held by people who undertook a debt assessment between 1 January 2020 - 31 December 2020 was £1327.

  5. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  6. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. 

  7. We helped 2.4 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2020-21. And we had 40 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  8. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,600 service outlets across England and Wales.

  9. Citizens Advice is the largest provider of free, multi-channel debt advice. Providing that help gives Citizens Advice unique insight into the types of debts people struggle with.

  10. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers. 

  11. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free and independent support for both prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  12. Citizens Advice also offers Pension Wise appointments across England and Wales. 

  13. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.