Overhaul of benefits main worry for many

ALMOST 4,000 issues have been raised in Banbridge Citizens Advice Bureau in the past eight months - and advisors said they are dealing with benefits appeals on a daily basis.

The Government’s welfare reforms have thrown up a whole new set of problems, according to Bureau Manager Margaret Ellis, who said local people are being left confused and angry over their loss of benefits under a new set of rules.

Ms Ellis said, “At the moment, advisers in the Bureau are seeing clients on a daily basis regarding issues relating to Employment Support Allowance decisions, and following that, the appeals process for ESA.”

And Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly said she had also experienced a rise in the number of constituents coming to her after having their ESA claims turned down.

She added that travelling to Newry for medical assessment can add to the stress for people who are already battling illness and struggling financially.

Mrs Kelly said, “I am worried that the added pressure of medicals for ESA, some over six months, are leading to vulnerable people slipping into depression. This is adding another problem to the disabilities they already have to endure. Many are feeling they have to beg for their entitlements.”

The SDLP Deputy Leader said she would be raising questions about the health assessments, which have produced shocking results for some clients who claim they have been misrepresented in some way.

In dealing with the flood of queries Ms Ellis said Banbridge CAB is being stretched to the limit.

“While most of the enquiries related to benefits, debt and employment queries have increased, along with other issues such as consumer or housing matters,” she explained.

A dedicated appeals worker would be very useful, Ms Ellis said.

“While Banbridge Council have been very supportive of Banbridge CAB we are still, like many other charities, experiencing significant drops in funding and this means that at the moment, we do not have the capacity to employ either a specialist tribunal representative to accompany clients to appeals such as those for ESA, nor are we currently able to provide the kind of specialist money advice that we have done in the past.”

To find out more about Banbridge CAB follow them on @banbridgecab, and if you would like to make a donation to support their work, you can go to the Charity Giving website and enter Banbridge Citizens Advice Bureau in the search box.