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Business & Economy

Citizens Advice Gateshead: A lifeline in the cost of living crisis

For more than six decades, Citizens Advice Gateshead has helped tens of thousands of people move forward at times of upheaval and uncertainty. After being awarded the North East Charity of the Year honour in 2022, now more than ever its services are proving vital for people across the North East. Here, Alison Dunn, chief executive at Citizens Advice Gateshead, shares how it is helping the community face the challenge of the cost of living crisis.  


At Citizens Advice Gateshead, we strive to achieve great things and have a significant impact on the community. 

In addition to the ongoing challenges faced by individuals, families and businesses in the North East, the cost of living crisis has astronomically heightened the need for our services. 

To put everything into context, we’ve had more enquiries in the last year from people seeking help with prepayment energy meters than we’ve had across the whole of the last ten years.

It’s not just lower-income families or those who are not working that are finding times tough; 50 per cent of everyone who comes to see us is in paid employment. 

With interest rates and mortgage payments rising, energy prices seemly on an unstoppable incline and food costs mounting in line with inflation at ten per cent, essential living costs are more for everyone. 

Look closer still, and it’s clear things are very challenging for us in the North:

• 38 per cent of children in the North East are now living in poverty, surpassing London for the first time since records began

• The employment rate in the North East is 71.8 per cent, which is the lowest for all regions in England

• One per cent of households in the North East are classed as being in destitution, with the UK average standing at 0.71 per cent


We are facing more pronounced poverty challenges in our region compared to the South.

Government policy is still very London-centric, infrastructure in the South is stronger and trends show businesses are still choosing to invest in the South of England over the North. 

At Citizens Advice Gateshead, we’ve seen three main increases in need for support this year: access to emergency food through food banks; charitable support for essential costs or emergencies that can’t be covered; and fuel poverty support. 

More and more people find themselves in a deficit budget, with no disposable income and hence no funds to respond to unexpected costs. 

So, they turn to help from third parties like us. 


Creating a fairer society for all 

Our vision at Citizens Advice Gateshead is a fair society for all, with lives well lived. 

As an advice agency, we’ll always be there as practical problem solvers to help people move forward. 

However, we understand advice alone is not sufficient. 

So, we’re working on multiple projects and initiatives to expand our reach and impact. 

Firstly, we are working with employers in the North of Tyne area, supporting them to understand how their policies, processes and cultures may be creating or worsening in-work poverty, and helping them make the changes needed to avoid that for employees.

We are also working with large employers, including Newcastle Building Society and Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to provide a bespoke service with direct access advice for their employees and customers. 

Michael Conville, interim chief customer officer at Newcastle Building Society, says: “Citizens Advice Gateshead does an incredible job supporting people in our communities, so we’re very happy to be working together to deliver a dedicated service for customers of Newcastle Building Society and our colleagues. 

“Being able to provide easy access to direct and meaningful help from their team of experts at a time of considerable need is already proving valuable to our customers. 

“With such challenging times set to continue, we’ll continue to work in partnership while aiming to make a positive difference in our communities.”

To tackle the increased range of challenges, we’re developing a broader range of services in Citizens Advice Gateshead than most other advice agencies.

For example, we have established specialised teams for housing and discrimination-related issues. 

Another initiative is developing employability programmes to help those who are out of work get into paid employment. 

This includes encouraging thinking about routes into employment and advice on how to build networks and develop resilience. 

It’s important to us to recognise that everyone’s circumstances are different. 

In line with this, a focus is to make our services more accessible. 

We’re an agile organisation. 

We have outlets in more places than ever, we’re moving towards a seven-day service with extended opening hours in 2023, and our goal is to create a network of ’20-minute neighbourhoods’, where we’ll have a Citizens Advice outlet within a mile of everybody’s home, so nobody has to walk more than 20 minutes to get the help they need. 

This innovation is made possible by the support of Gateshead Council. 

At a time when many local authorities are reducing their investment in their local Citizens Advice, we’re grateful ours has increased their investment in us significantly, recognising that income maximisation and problem solving are key to improving the health outcomes of people in the community. 

As part of this locality strategy, we have placed our advisers within third-party organisations across the borough, meaning people could, for example, go to their local community centre and get the support they need. 

With community outreach, such as energy roadshows, we’re getting out and about across the borough and making sure everyone is aware of the support we offer for all circumstances. 

With all the initiatives we offer at Citizens Advice Gateshead, my biggest piece of advice for anyone is don’t wait until a point of crisis to seek help. 

If you’re struggling, reach out now for advice and guidance. 

We’re here to support you.