Tough future for cash-strapped Citizens’ Advice

CONCERNED -- Sue Davis outside the headquarters of Ashfield Citizens' Advice Bureau
CONCERNED -- Sue Davis outside the headquarters of Ashfield Citizens' Advice Bureau

ASHFIELD’S Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), which serves Hucknall, says it is facing a heavy workload as benefit cuts take hold.

The bureau has provided essential help to more than 3,000 troubled residents last year across the Ashfield district, including many from the Hucknall area, under the constant cloud of financial pressure.

And bosses at the organisation say that they expect demand on its services to increase substantially with the introduction of the new Welfare Reform Act next year, providing an even greater challenge for its already stretched staff.

Chief executive Sue Davis told the CAB’s annual general meeting that the Ashfield CAB saw 3,301 clients in 2011/12, dealing with 13,457 problems.

Around one third of these problems — 4,519 — were related to the claiming of benefits, and they are expecting this number to rise dramatically when the new Act comes into force, bringing with it big changes to the benefit system.

“With the welfare reforms that are due to happen, we reckon that [number] is going to increase by 100 per cent,”said Sue.

“We think we are busy now, but we are going to be a lot busier next year.”

The other main problem areas that Ashfield CAB dealt with last year were debt — 4,846 problems, housing -— 723 problems and employment — 945 problems.

Over the year, £6.9m worth of debt was dealt with by the bureau and nearly £270,000 worth of additional benefits gained for Ashfield people.

The reduction in the number of bodies and organisations providing funding to CAB meant that alternative sources of cash were needed.

These included a last-minute £90,000 grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s transition pot. But the CAB still faced an overall funding cut of about £30,000 compared to last year.

But the CAB still faced an overall funding cut of around £30,000 compared to the previous year.

In the annual report, Peter Robinson, the CAB’s chairman, said: “The main challenge the bureau faces is to be sustainable in order to continue serving the needs of the local community.

“It is clear that the future lies in tendering for contracts and the bureau welcomes working more closely with partners in order to deliver them.

“The cost-effectiveness of the organisation is key to its long-term sustainability.”

Sue Davis added that though they are already extremely busy, the need for their service is even higher than the numbers they are currently dealing with.

People are often queuing down Market Street in Sutton, waiting to be seen by an adviser at the main CAB base.

“If we had more caseworkers, we could deal with more issues.”

“There is a huge unmet need out there.”