Citizens Advice (CA) gave one-to-one advice to two million people during the year of the pandemic, the “vast majority” of them remotely, the service has said.
CA said more than half of enquiries were on virus-related issues between September and December 2020, but one in five people needing help were not confident about using the internet, including to search for information and fill in forms.
The report, Life through lockdown, recorded that, like many other organisations, CA saw a “huge increase in demand” when the pandemic hit.
The “vast majority” of its 2m clients in the year to March 2021 were advised remotely.
Its coronavirus content had over 6m views since March 2020, and its online self-help advice has been viewed 63m times – an increase of nearly 10m on the previous year.
After an “initial spike” in visits at the beginning of the first lockdown, overall views “dipped and settled although still at a higher level” than during the same period the previous year.
“As the first lockdown eased, and people returned to something more similar to their normal lives, the number of people coming to our website increased again.
“It’s likely that during lockdown people prioritised the most urgent problems: with schools closed and children at home, parents did not have the space or time they needed to get help from us.
“This is similar to the patterns we see in school holidays in previous years. We can see that trend returning during the first months of 2021 as schools were closed once again.”
CA said that normally it saw a “different pattern” in its most-viewed pages at the weekend compared to weekdays.
“On weekdays before the pandemic, people were usually focussed on immediate problems around income, debt and housing. At the weekend, they thought longer term, and searched for advice around family, divorce and wills.
“During the spring lockdown, this stopped happening – with people at home all the time there was little difference between weekdays and weekends.
“People were concerned about dealing with their immediate coronavirus-related concerns every day of the week.”
CA said there was a surge in people seeking help with redundancy issues, including notice periods and questions about fairness, in the summer of 2020.
“Both of these issues have since subsided significantly as employers and employees understood more about their rights and responsibilities, and as the initial wave of redundancies came to an end.”
Questions about furlough moved from those relating to being made redundant and working while on furlough to asking an employer to be furloughed in the latest lockdown.
“This points to the concerns people might have had with managing work while looking after their children.”
CA said searches about county court judgments (CCJs) had doubled in recent weeks, “with the vast majority of people landing on our page about CCJs and credit ratings”, suggesting that increasing numbers of people were having CCJs issued against them for the non-payment of debts.
The pandemic led to greater numbers of people seeking advice on divorce, which had continued “albeit at a slightly lower rate following the initial spike”.
A “sharp increase” during the first wave of the pandemic in demand for advice on wills and death “was followed by an even greater increase during the winter lockdown, mirroring the higher death toll of the second wave”.
CA said that as restrictions were lifted, it would focus on “fully reintroducing face-to-face services for those that need it most”, whilst not losing the “incredible progress” it had made in terms of other forms of advice.