Funding relief for busy advice bureaux

JP License'Citizens Advice Bureau, Spectrum House, Edinburgh.'' Neil Hanna Photography''07702 246823
JP License'Citizens Advice Bureau, Spectrum House, Edinburgh.'' Neil Hanna Photography''07702 246823

Scottish Borders Council is to continue its £225,000 annual funding of the region’s three Citizens Advice Bureaux for the next two years.

The consortium of services – based in Hawick, Galashiels and Peebles – employs 17 paid staff and has around 100 volunteer advisors. Fears over the future funding of the local network – facing unprecedented demand on their services from hard-pressed Borderers – have been expressed by Kelso Conservative Councillor Simon Mountford.

With the current three year core-funding contract with the council due to expire in March, he sought an assurance at the latest full council meeting that the deal would be renewed.

Council leader David Parker said: “I am delighted to say the contract, which has given the CAB funding certainty, is working well and had led to significant improvements for customers using the service. As a result, I can confirm the contract is being extended until March, 2017.”

The annual report of the three bureaux reveals that they advised on 18,090 new issues in 2013/14, with personal debt, benefit difficulties in the wake of welfare reform and employment problems dominating the workload.

As a result of CAB help, a total client financial gain of £2.56million was achieved last year – an average of £445 for each client seeking advice.

In the first six months of this financial year, a further net client financial gain of £890,000 has been realised.

The number of CAB referrals to those church and charitable organisations operating food banks has surged to 129 in the three months from July to September this year, compared to just 30 in the corresponding period last year.

A spike in demand for advice is expected next spring when a range of welfare benefits is replaced by Universal Credit.

John Montgomery, manager of Peebles CAB said: “The great thing about the core funding from the council is that it allows us to lever in other moneys to support our services which are experiencing huge and varied demand.

“Without it, we would not be able to attract funding from other sources, like the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the Big Lottery and the Bank of Scotland Foundation, so it is of crucial importance.”