A View From the Citizens Advice Bureau

March

6

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We recently saw some statistics about our local Citizens Advice Bureau and thought it was worthwhile getting a guest article from them , here it is:

Rochford and Rayleigh Citizens Advice Bureau operates in Rochford District providing free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to anyone, on any issue from debt and employment to housing and immigration and every other area of daily living.

During the third quarter of the year they helped 619 individuals with 1795 problems, predominantly benefits, debt and employment. Compared to the same quarter last year (which takes account of seasonal variations) the number of clients has increased by 16%.

Sue Murray, District Manager said, ‘Working adult households currently make up approximately 40 per cent of our clients and government policy is geared towards getting people into work. However, work is not necessarily enough as, more and more we are seeing clients who are in a precarious position; often having insecure or part time work or are self-employment with no contingencies, cushion or savings. Any financial shock can tip people over the edge, seemingly small things like a broken down washing machine. These people are generally used to coping so they continue to try. Often they resort to pay day loans (where interest rates do not mirror the financial market eg 1734% APR from one company). They look for short term solutions and this often makes matters far worse. When they reach crisis point, either through debt or employment issues, they turn to support from Citizens Advice.

Many changes in the benefits system are being introduced from April 2013 so we will see an increase in the number of people coming to us. We are pleased to be working closely with Rochford District Council Revenue and Benefits Department around the imminent introduction of Local Council Tax Support and forthcoming changes to Housing Benefit. We are already seeing people coming to us worried about how they are going to cope. Our assessors and advisers are helping them mitigate the changes as much as possible, assisting them to draw up budgets to enable them to meet these future obligations. We also use evidence from our clients, anonymously, to campaign for change to unfair policies and practices, enabling many people to benefit from the work of the bureau.

Last spring we were delighted to receive funding from The Cabinet Office to enhance service provision. This was used to fund our specialist Money Advice Service, provide additional advice appointments including some evening appointments and train additional volunteers. This has been a real benefit to our clients and the District as people have not had to wait so long before receiving full advice, enabling problems to be resolved as soon as possible. Our volunteer base has been built up. Unfortunately this funding was only available for one year and was to be used within that year. Whilst we are pleased to have secured some funding from April 2013 for specialist Money Advice, we have not been able to replace other funding which will result in our appointment availability being reduced from April 2013. This reduction is not a situation that we would like to continue and we are pursuing additional funding to provide advice in different ways.

We are very grateful to our volunteers (70 in total) and paid staff (currently 4 full time equivalent (fte), reducing to 3 fte in April) for their commitment to the bureau and their continuing desire to help those in need in our community at this difficult time.

We are, of course, conscious that Councillors are having to make very difficult decisions about spending whilst maintaining a vital link between your community and the Council. It has been good to welcome a number of Councillors to see first hand the work of the bureau in Rochford District and how we help residents in very difficult situations.

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