"We're worried about a ticking debt time bomb," warns the chief executive of Citizens' Advice Stevenage in a report on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on people in the town already facing difficult choices.

"During this cost-of-living crisis, Citizens' Advice Stevenage has seen more people coming to us than ever before for help with crisis support, energy problems and not having enough money to make ends meet," writes Charlotte Blizzard-Welch, CEO of Citizens' Advice Stevenage.

The Comet: Charlotte Blizzard-Welch, CA Stevenage CEOCharlotte Blizzard-Welch, CA Stevenage CEO (Image: Archant)

"The scale and size of the crisis is unlike even what we were seeing during the pandemic," the independent organisation's report says.

"We've seen issues that might usually have been peaking in winter, peaking in the middle of summer." For example, people being unable to afford to put money on their prepayment meters.


Citizens' Advice Stevenage says it is is currently helping two people every minute with crisis support, such as referrals to food banks and fuel vouchers.

The organisation has also seen an increase in demand for information and advice on eligibility for help with dental care, the cost of prescriptions and free school meals, highlighting the growing need for additional support to meet everyday expenses. PIP enquiries have also seen a sharp increase.

The report continues: "The cost-of-living crisis is having a devastating effect on the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable sectors of the Stevenage community.

"Stevenage contains some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England, and is one of the most deprived districts in Hertfordshire, with Bedwell being the most deprived ward in the town and the second most deprived in the county, with most households living in income deprivation, together with high rates of fuel poverty.


"As prices rise, people make more and more difficult decisions about what to cut back on and where they need to rely on community support, because they do not have enough to live on.

"Some groups, such as disabled people, are facing significantly more harm than others. More of our debt clients are now in a negative budget - where their expenditure on essentials exceeds their income - than ever before."

Citizens' Advice Stevenage's data shows that people have had their Universal Credit reduced by more than £100, which means they cannot pay their priority bills, such as rent, council tax and energy costs.

Also, whilst the cost-of-living crisis is affecting everyone, it's not affecting us all equally, the report highlights.

"We are particularly worried about certain groups, either because they are not eligible for support, or because their energy costs are higher - such as disabled people and people on prepayment meters - or because they are in a negative budget," it says.


Citizens' Advice Stevenage has been calling for urgent government help, and says it will continue to carry out research and raise awareness of the cost-of-living crisis in the context of Stevenage, as well as using its findings to strengthen local partnerships to create a joined-up network to support Stevenage residents.

"We believe everyone should be able to afford a decent standard of living," Citizens' Advice Stevenage said. 

"As well as using our considerable data and insights to campaign for change for the residents of Stevenage, we are also putting much-needed resource onto the front line, so Stevenage residents get the information and advice they need to help them find a way forward with the problems they face."