A huge increase in the number of people contacting Berwickshire Citizens Advice Bureau as a result of welfare reforms has prompted the setting up of an outreach service.
Since welfare reform started to be introduced last year there has been a 68% increase in the number of Roxburgh and Berwickshire CAB clients seeking help with Employment and Support Allowance and an 83% increase in clients wanting advice about job-seeking conditions, sanctions and hardship payments.
Aware that the welfare changes were having a serious impact in the region Roxburgh & Berwickshire CAB applied for major funding from the Big Lottery to help them extend their current sessions at Duns, Eyemouth, Kelso and Hawick, to outreach sessions to towns and villages across the region.
Starting in February 2014 there will be six new outreach clinics opening in Coldstream, Jedburgh, Reston, Newcastleton, Greenlaw and Burnfoot in Hawick. Ten further locations will be opened by March 2015.
Delighted at their success in drawing in £167,948 from the Big Lottery Fund under the Lottery’s Support and Connect programme, Rhona Calder, who is managing the new Welfare Reform Action Project (WRAP), said: “It will allow the Citizens Advice in Roxburgh and Berwickshire to meet the increased demand for CAB services resulting from the government’s Welfare Reform and provide the biggest ever advice service in the area.”
The new money will enable the CAB to recruit four staff, open the outreach clinics and develop a Home Visiting Referral Service in partnership with other agencies.
“There are things we can do to help people,” said Rhona.
“ Our advisers are trained experts in how the benefit system works, and also in debt management, as well as consumer rights. We can identify benefits and grants that people may not know about, and we can also negotiate with creditors and the jobcentre on people’s behalf, and help them appeal unfair decisions.
“But with the scale of people coming to us now we are hugely over-stretched and are struggling to be able to help so many people.
“That’s why this new money is so important. It will allow us to meet this increased demand by taking on more advisers in our four main offices, but we will also be able to extend our reach by going out to the more rural areas and offering direct help to those families there who are struggling.
“As always, our advice is free, independent and confidential, and available to anyone who needs it.
“We are also looking for volunteers to help us staff the expanded service, so if anyone is interested in training as a CAB adviser there has never been a better time. You can reach us in Duns on 01361 883340.”