January might seem like one of the quietest months of the year for the Square Mile, but at City Advice’s headquarters in Aldgate East, the phone lines are lighting up.
The beginning of the year is always the busiest for the City’s free independent legal and financial advice service for residents and workers, which is delivered by poverty charity Toynbee Hall and funded by the City of London Corporation.
Toynbee Hall’s Michael Dunlop explains that January brings with it something of a perfect storm of financial, legal and social issues to the Capital. “You’ve got post-Christmas debt hangover so money is tight, nobody is getting pay rises, and many people are actually facing unemployment due to the end of the festive period.
“There’s also the pressures of putting on a traditional Christmas – especially when there are kids involved – and this can lead to family breakdowns, financial struggles. “Add to that the stress of welfare benefit reassessments come March and April and things can really reach boiling point.”
An online poll conducted by YouGov for debt charity the Money Advice Trust late last year revealed that 11% of consumers expected to fall behind with their finances in the New Year, while Bank of England governor Mark Carney issued a pre-Christmas warning about the high level of debt among UK households.
Unsecured debt, including spending on credit cards, is rising at its fastest pace in 11 years, he said. Working in conjunction with the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens’ Advice, City Advice’s experts are qualified to advise on a huge range of legal, financial and social issues including welfare, debt, housing, relationships, and health and wellbeing.
Advisors will either act on the client’s behalf, offer guidance on how they can act for themselves, or refer them on to other relevant services.
Toynbee Hall operates a permanent drop-in centre from its headquarters in Aldgate East as well as separate hotlines for residents and workers.
Advisors also staff regular pop-up surgeries throughout the week at eight different sites around the City, including the Golden Lane Estate, City Business Library, and Artizan Street Library and Community Centre. Toynbee Hall launched City Advice late in 2013 as an extension of its debt and legal guidance services catering specifically to people who live, work and study in the City.
More than 3,000 people have accessed City Advice services over the last two-and-a-half years, 66% of which become return users. “One thing we have noticed is that all of these issues – employment, debt, relationships – are linked, so where people used to come in with one problem, now they might need help with two or three,” Michael says. And City Advice is expecting that figure to jump again in the coming months as the City waits with bated breath for the outcome of Theresa May’s decision to trigger Article 50.
“We’re predicting that March will bring a big hit,” Michael says. “There are all these fears that the big firms will throw their toys out of the pram and leave, but you also have to consider the impact that would have for these smaller businesses.
“The cafes that shut down because there are no office workers lining up for their morning coffee – the office cleaners, the construction workers.
“There has been a lot of postulating, but very little consideration of the knock-on effects for other workers.”
For information on how to access City Advice services visit toynbeehall.org.uk