Bureau helped 300 people with debts averaging £14k last year

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More than 300 people visited Roxburgh and Berwickshire Citizens’ Advice Bureau last year, seeking help with debt problems averaging £14,000.

That stark statistic was conveyed to last week’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council.

The authority currently funds the bureau here and the other two in the Borders to the tune of £227,250 a year.

In a presentation on the service’s performance last year, Euan Robson, chairman of the bureaux consortium, noted that its present three year-funding contract with the council expires at the end of March next year.

“Other councils in Scotland have cut their grants to bureaux, so we appreciate the fact that this council has not done that,” said Mr Robson.

“We know that the council, when considering future funding decisions, will be looking at advice services in the round and how other agencies, including housing associations, deliver advice to Borderers.

“Whatever the outcome of these deliberations, I hope councillors appreciate that the CAB offers excellent value for the money we are given.

“For our part, we will insist that our service remains free, confidential, independent and impartial. These are key elements on which we cannot compromise.”

Mr Robson had outlined the work of the three local bureaux last financial year – at Peebles CAB, with three staff and 21 volunteers; at Galashiels, with five staff and 32 volunteers; and covering Roxburgh and Berwickshire, with offices in Hawick, Kelso, Duns and Eyemouth run by four staff and 43 volunteers.

Over the year, the three Borders bureaux, all autonomous limited-liability companies, gave 30,824 pieces of advice to 5,355 clients, helping them make financial gains of £3.9m.

The most common requests for assistance related to benefits, tax credits and national insurance (10,036), debt (7,963), financial products and services (2,191), housing (1,376), tax (1,199) and NHS concerns (1,148).

“Our volunteers represent the equivalent of 20 full-time equivalent staff providing accurate and consistent advice that is cost-effective, flexible, accountable and accessible,” said Mr Robson.

Rhona Calder, manager of the Roxburgh and Berwickshire bureau, highlighted the issue of debt among clients, revealing that they saw 339 people last year who had debt problems that averaged at around £14,000.

“Our biggest challenge, however, is attracting volunteers, many of whom benefit greatly from the experience and go on to become highly employable,” said Ms Calder.

“We’re always on the lookout for more, via social media and word of mouth.”