THE head of Scarborough’s Citizens Advice Bureau has said that Government cuts to their services could be a “disaster”.
The Government has announced that from next month they are stopping the funding for the debt advice provided by Citizens Advice Bureaux.
The Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) was established in 2006 to give free, unbiased debt advice to people on low incomes who were struggling control their finances and was targeted towards areas of deprivation.
Scarborough and District Citizens Advice Bureau in Roscoe Street has two workers who provide this advice.
The Scarborough office is also the main access point for debt relief orders in the Borough.
Worker Vicki Smith explained: “People can find themselves with unmanageable debt for all sorts of reasons: job loss, relationship or health breakdown or simply from trying to manage on very low incomes.
“The FIF scheme has helped many people desperate to resolve their debt problems who want to be able to move on with their lives without the threat of serious action from their creditors.
“Potentially everyone in Scarborough Borough who has credit could be a client of the FIF scheme. With the onset of further public sector redundancies and expected rise in interest rates we don’t expect the demand for debt advice to reduce in the foreseeable future. In fact we fear that demand will soar.
“We are worried that if the service ends people will turn to rogue debt management companies, who charge clients and do not offer the same level of help.”
She added that 35 of these companies have had to surrender their licenses to the Office of Fair Trading and complaints to the Financial Ombudsman about their services have risen by 25 per cent since last Spring.
Jill Mandy, chief executive of Scarborough and District Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “The big difference between our debt advice and what’s available elsewhere is that our clients can talk to someone they trust in person.
“Most of our FIF clients have mental or other health problems and wouldn’t be able to handle matters by phone or over the internet.
“Once our service ends there simply won’t be anything available to Scarborough residents that meets their needs. We’ve been starting to close cases since January because our paid FIF workers will be redundant at the end of March, clients are asking us where they can go for help instead and frankly we don’t have an answer for them.
“We’re working on a plan to train volunteers in debt work but this will never be a service that volunteers can deliver without specialist support. If we can’t find other funding for this expertise the level of service we can offer will go down. It hurts us to be in this situation, but it will hurt local people who need us much more.”
One such person who has benefited from the bureau’s free debt advice is a Whitby lady in her 60s who did not wish to be named.
She said: “I have used the service a lot in the past and it’s been first class. I was at a stage where I didn’t know which way to turn. I even considered doing away with myself.
“When I went to see them I just burst out crying because I didn’t believe somebody could help me so much.”
She continued: “Without their help I don’t know what I’d have done. They helped me through the whole process.
“I’m feeling 100 per cent better now and I didn’t think I’d ever feel this way again.”
She added that it has all been free and she wishes she could repay the staff in some way.
The lady said: “They’ve been so good to me and it’s such a shame that this is going to happen.
“When I heard about the cuts I was disgusted.
“It’s terrible at the moment because so many people are losing their jobs and getting into financial difficulty.
“What are people going to do? There will be a lot of families who just don’t know where to go.”