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Lacking a fixed address or a safe place to receive mail will worsen Covid hardships, warns Citizens Advice

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Citizens Advice has found that seven million people (14% of UK adults) have been unable to receive their post at some point over the last decade.

A survey conducted on behalf of the charity also found that just under one in eight (12%) people have been unable to apply for services like health appointments, welfare, banking, and even jobs, because they lack an address to put on applications. This rises to one in four (24%) with disabled people and just over a quarter (29%) for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

The charity found that these issues disproportionately affect people in unsafe and precarious living situations. For instance, those who sleep rough or live in temporary accommodation, or those who have their post intercepted by an abuser.

A third (34%) of people surveyed said they’d struggle to manage their finances without post. This rises to almost half for those on a low income (47%) and disabled people (46%).

With many more people looking for work or claiming benefits because of Covid-19, the charity says it’s more important than ever for everyone to have guaranteed access to postal services. Without access to post or an address, millions of people risk being left behind as a lack of fixed address may mean they’re unable to apply for jobs and benefits.

As concerns grow about the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health, six in 10 (62%) people said they’d feel cut off from society if they couldn’t send or receive post. Moreover, three in ten (28%) people would either struggle or be unable to keep in touch with family or friends without post.

Although text and email reminders are becoming more common, four in five (79%) people say post is helpful or essential for managing their day to day lives. With 4.5 million adults across the country predicted to be digitally excluded by 2030, the charity warns digital methods shouldn’t be solely relied upon to communicate vital information.

Citizens Advice finds that over the last 10 years:

  • 7 million people have missed appointments with key services, like court or employment related appointments, because of missed letters
  • 3 million people have experienced some financial loss – an average of £850 each – as a result of not being able to receive post
  • 6 million people have missed at least one healthcare appointment due to not receiving their post. This can lead to further health complications, and comes at an estimated cost of at least £223 million to taxpayers
  • 8 million people have missed out on employment opportunities as a result of missing letters

The charity, which has seen an increase in people seeking housing, redundancy and benefits advice, warns that the problem of people having no fixed address could be exacerbated in coming months as people risk eviction and homelessness.

It’s urging the government to commit to investing in an ‘Address & Collect’ service, which would work like a PO Box, to be provided at post offices. This would ensure the millions without mail would have equal access to the essential services necessary to rebuild their lives.

Case studies:

Citizens Advice spoke to Nick* who, when he was sleeping rough, was sent a letter from the council offering him a flat if he turned up at a given location on a specific day and time. But, because Nick was having his post sent to the local homeless shelter he didn’t get the letter in time and had to spend another 3 months sleeping rough before he was offered somewhere else.

Beth* was living with her abusive ex-partner who hid her post from her. He hid letters about her pension and bank statements to check up on her movements. It was only when Beth got a call from HMRC that she discovered she hadn’t been receiving letters that were sent to her. She later found a suitcase containing over 600 of her letters that her partner had hidden.

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

“People rely on post to access essential services and stay connected to friends and family. Though the government rightly aims for universal access to post, our current system is designed around letter boxes, not people. It’s vital the government acts now to ensure our postal system is truly universal.

“We’re seeing millions of people coming to us for help with redundancy, housing and welfare problems during the pandemic. This new research shows that lacking a fixed address or a place to receive mail can not only worsen these issues, but also hold people back from overcoming their challenges. There is a serious risk that if the issue is not addressed millions of people risk falling through the cracks.”

*Not real names

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