Benefits and debt are hot topics at Citizens Advice Bureau in Grantham

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The year to April was the busiest ever for South Kesteven Citizens Advice Bureau and this year will be even busier, but with less funding to support the workload, warned its strategic manager at the annual meeting last Wednesday in Grantham.

John Willoughby told an audience of around 40 people, including CAB support organisations, the number of enquiries had gone up 8.5 per cent to a total of 16,329.

He said this amounted to a doubling of cases relating to employment and support allowances and many more dealing with welfare reforms introduced from April 1 this year.

To support the service, the CAB had taken £40,000 from its reserves to improve its Stamford offices, increase opening hours in Grantham and Stamford, build a new website and retain specialist casework workers.

Almost 80 per cent of the CAB work is carried out by volunteers, which it has been estimated saves the charity the equivalent of around £240,000 a year, an effort which was acknowledged with thanks by chairman Adrian Arnold.

“This service would not exist without these people,” he said. “The board is forever indebted.”

He also pointed out South Kesteven District Council and Lincolnshire County Council had maintained their financial support for the charity because: “They recognise that ours is a frontline service that, whilst being totally independent, complements those provided by the council themselves.”

Government funding for CAB nationally has dropped £10m in the last two years and this was further hit when funding to support debt and welfare advice was no longer eligible for Legal Aid funding.

This is in the light of the SKCAB seeing almost 40 per cent of its cases involving benefits and nearly 30 per cent debt, and treasurer Bob Gardner warned more money would have to be taken from reserves to bridge the funding gap.

The CAB helped 366 clients in financial difficulty, collectively with a debt of £4,256,508, enabling them to reach solutions with creditors.

In addition, 1,332 clients required specialist casework, rather than ‘one-off’ advice, 616 families needed assistance with issues about working tax and child benefits, 630 people with housing benefits issues were helped along with 1,105 people concerned about Employment and Support Allowance difficulties.

Other matters dealt with by the local CAB surrounded relationships, employment, legal and consumer issues.

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