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Agnes Smith Advice Centre Appeal

How we are helping the poorest in Oxford? At the Agnes Smith Advice Centre in Blackbird Leys, we have provided benefits and debt advice to more than 1400 residents over the last year, keeping people in their homes and helping them keep warm and fed.
 
We are at the heart of one of the most deprived communities in the UK and people come to us when they don’t know where else to turn. 

 
Preparing for an extraordinary winter
Now we are facing our toughest challenge yet.  High gas and electric bills alongside price inflation for food and other household essentials, are likely to have a devastating impact on Blackbird Leys residents as temperatures drop this winter and will bring many more clients to our door.  The £2,500 price-cap does not make fuel affordable for the poorest in society. Most local people are on pre-payment meters, so it is not just a case of delaying a bill.  Over half the people we see have disabilities. Others are pensioners or families with young children – all at real risk of freezing in their own homes if they can’t top up their meters.
 
We have already seen the impact of previous price rises.  The summer months, normally our quietest, were busier than ever – we helped 502 people with new enquiries in July and August, up by 75% compared with last year.  Almost half said they were short of food and/or had run out of gas and electric because they couldn’t afford to top up prepayment meters.
 
Our action plan
We know we will need to provide our advice to more clients.  For those where income simply isn’t enough to pay for basic essentials, we also plan to:

• Distribute the government’s Household Support Grants, as supermarket and fuel vouchers 

• Refer people to the Oxford Community Emergency Foodbank and the Blackbird Leys Community Larder and even provide food ourselves as a stop gap

• Help people apply for Waterhelp and other social tariffs for water, bus passes, help with health costs, healthy start vouchers and more

• Refer people for energy advice and home assessments to deal with damp or mould

• Submit applications to the Thames Water Trust Fund for replacement white goods where a cooker or washing machine has broken 

• Refer people to the baby bank for help with baby clothes and equipment

• Submit charity applications for winter clothing, school uniforms, beds, bedding and other essentials to help people stay warm

• Run outreach centres in Greater Leys and Cowley, ensuring easy access for almost all the poorest in Oxford.

Please help us help others
The cost-of-living crisis will have an impact on everyone’s finances, but if you know you will still find it relatively easy to make ends meet, please consider making a donation to the Advice Centre so we can help the most vulnerable to stay warm this winter.  
 
Could you, for instance, donate your cost-of-living payment or your Winter Fuel Payment (for pensioners) so that we can help those who are most at risk?
 
With the help of generous supporters like you, we have already raised £5000 to start our regular winter adviser in October and keep her until next spring.  This will allow us to help almost 20% more clients during the winter months than in a normal year.  We now want to raise another £8,000 to help us cover the additional running costs that the Advice Centre is facing this winter due to increases in our own electricity bills and other payments.  We know we must keep the Centre in a strong position to make sure we can be there for everyone who needs us during these extraordinary times.
 
Donations can be made through our website at www.agnessmith.co.uk

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