THE awarding of a contract tasked with helping those struggling with money and welfare issues comes at the end of a year which has seen Berwickshire Citizens Advice Bureau help tackle close to half a million pounds of people’s debt.
A decade after Scottish Borders Council stepped in to help sustain a CAB in Berwickshire, those involved with the organisation are welcoming the news that the local authority has awarded a contract which will guarantee the service’s future for at least another three years.
The council has awarded the contract to deliver a new money advice and welfare advisory service for people in the region to a newly formed consortium of the Borders Citizens Advice Bureaux.
The service, which will provide impartial, free and confidential advice, comes into fruition on April 1 and its aims will include reducing the number of households in the Borders currently in debt, or at risk of being in debt and improving access to affordable and manageable financial services to help households manage their money.
The awarding of the contract could go some way to helping ease the debt worries of people in Berwickshire, which judging by CAB figures dating from April 2011 to the end of last month, is an area with significant debt problems.
In the past year, the Berwickshire Bureau assisted 40 new debt clients who came to the bureau with £495,900 worth of debt, of which £197,000 was debt on credit and store cards.
From April-February, the Bureau were approached with 1.331 new enquiries, dealing with 4.211 separate issues and 1.347 repeat enquiries dealing with 4.471 separate issues.
Money and debt issues accounted for 42 per cent of the workload of staff based in offices in Duns and Eyemouth and outreach workers in other locations across the county, with welfare benefits making up 33 per cent; employment six per cent and housing issues the remaining five per cent.
George Russell, chair of the Borders Citizens Advice Bureaux, said although the newly awarded contract was for the whole of the Borders, the awarding of it would definitely have a positive impact on the services available in Berwickshire.
“The Citizens Advice Bureau owes Scottish Borders Council a debt of gratitude,” he told ‘The Berwickshire News’.
“Going back 10 years ago the service was at risk but the council came along to help secure its future.
“And for them to award us with this contract is fantastic. Had we lost out in the tendering process, which itself carried its own risks, the service would have come to a halt in due course.
“The CAB already offers help with money and welfare matters but the contract will allow us to be more specific at a time when getting credit is easier and the number of people struggling with debt is growing and growing.”
Mr Russell added that the awarding of the new contract by Scottish Borders Council should help the CAB extend its existing outreach work which has seen them go into high schools in the region.
“We’ve currently got a youth project, still at the pilot stage, targeting 16-21 year olds with a view to understanding the consequences of getting into debt and getting them to keep good budgeting habits from a young age.
“There should also be scope for us to do more work outside of Eyemouth and Duns. We won’t be able to go to places like Chirnside and Coldstream every day but sessions once or twice a week should be of benefit to people looking for advice.”