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Benefits advice and worries about paying the bills: Citizens Advice data shows the changing picture of the nation’s concerns

15 April 2020

Citizens Advice has seen record-breaking demand for advice on its website over the past month with nine million pageviews, a 39% rise on the same period last year.

After an initial surge in enquiries about sick pay and redundancy, data from the charity now shows a dramatic increase in people seeking advice on paying bills and accessing benefits. 

Over the month, pages on benefits were viewed over 2.2 million times, this includes just under 750,000 views of the Universal Credit pages. Advice pages on work, for example sick pay or being furloughed, were viewed 1.6 million times. 

Coronavirus was the most searched word on the charity’s website, followed by people looking for information on Universal Credit and the government’s furlough scheme.

Citizens Advice, founded the day after World War II was declared, has since become a multi-channel service providing face-to-face appointments alongside phone, email and web chat.

The service, which is now only provided via telephone, email and web chat due to social distancing rules, helped 220,000 people one-to-one with specific issues over the last month

Since the charity started recording whether a problem was related to coronavirus, 32,000 people have required help with a query specific to this pandemic. Half of those wanted help with Universal Credit and a third wanted to talk about employment problems.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Last month we helped millions of people. Behind each enquiry was a family struggling to pay rent, someone self-employed who could no longer afford their bills, or a person attempting to claim benefits for the first time.

"These personal stories combine to paint a bigger picture of how lives have been interrupted by coronavirus.

“Not only will we continue to help as many people as we can with their individual problems, we’ll use that bigger picture to advocate for change to make sure no one is left behind.”

Graphs and trends:

The challenges that people are seeking guidance on have changed drastically over the past month, this graph shows the changes in daily rankings of the most viewed page on the Citizens Advice website.

It tells the story of how people’s concerns and problems have changed as the pandemic continues and new government measures are put in place.

  • On 20 March, Citizens Advice published a new page on what to do if you can’t pay your bills because of coronavirus. Within two days this was the number one viewed page and it has stayed in the top seven ever since.

  • After the Prime Minister announced lockdown measures on 23 March, Citizens Advice published a page on checking what benefits you can get. This quickly moved into the top 10 most viewed pages. With people having their hours cut, being laid off or made redundant, this page has remained in the top 10.

  • On 25 March the charity published another new page on what to do if your employer has told you not to work. After the Chancellor announced further details on the job retention scheme the next day, the page entered the top ten and has remained in the top two since 31 March.

  • Enquiries about Universal Credit first began to spike in mid-March, and have remained at high levels, mirrored by the unprecedented numbers of people applying for the benefit through the DWP.

  • The trends over the last week show people are still worried about what to do if their employer has told them not to work and what to do if they won’t be able to pay their bills.

The top pages people were looking at for help online over the last month were:

Notes to editors

You can find more information on coronavirus on the Citizens Advice website here

  1. The last month relates to 9 March - 9 April 2020.

  2. The web stats measure page views of 30 seconds and over and excludes the advisors in our network who are logged in to see our specialist content.

  3. Citizens Advice local service data comes from our case management system -  Casebook. This allows the charity to record notes each time someone seeks advice, including codes relating to the issues they’re looking for advice on. Citizens Advice has recently introduced a new tag for when someone is seeking advice on an issue related to coronavirus.

  4. The availability of face-to-face services is affected during the outbreak. If people need to speak to someone for advice, they should check our website for the status of their nearest Citizens Advice.

  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 and over the phone for free. 

  7. We helped 2.7 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2018-19. And we had 29 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.