Funding cuts present challenges for services

FUNDING cuts continue to threaten the services of Banbridge Citizens Advice Bureau, those attending the Bureau AGM heard last week.

In a review of the previous year’s activity the charity’s manager in this area Margaret Ellis told those gathered at Banbridge Old Town Hall that the budget cuts make the work they carry out very difficult.

She said, “It has become customary to use the word ‘challenging’ in relation to the difficult external environment within which Citizens Advice Bureaux and other voluntary sector agencies are operating. However the term challenging does not do justice to the circumstances in which the (Banbridge) Bureau carried out its functions in the year 2011-2012.”

As previously reported, funding cuts meant the Specialist Money Advice Service could no longer continue past October last year. This has meant that clients with new debt issues coming to the Banbridge office, which has been open for 23 years, are being assessed and may have to be referred to other agencies for their cases to progress.

Cuts have also hampered the Bureau’s ability to provide tribunal representation to clients.

Looking at the figures for the period April last year until March this year, the main issues affecting people in the area are benefits and the confusion surrounding them, especially in light of the Government’s latest welfare reforms. People have also continued to contact the Bureau in relation to employment issues, reflecting the continued downturn in the economy according to Ms Ellis. A range of issues are dealt with by the office, including education, finance, health and housing.

Where they can, advisors also make home visits and provide services through the Outreach Sessions. The outreach offices in Dromore have been used most widely in the past year, with 349 issues being dealt with there. Issues in Dromore have increased, while those in Gilford and Rathfriland have fallen since the 2010-2011 year.

Ms Ellis thanked those funders who continue to help the Bureau. “We would like to acknowledge our appreciation for the ongoing support from Banbridge District Council, the Southern Health & Social Care Trust, the Nationwide Foundation and Lloyds TSB Foundation for Northern Ireland who continue to fund the Bureau services, as well as providing support and assistance when needed.”