Dark days loom for Falkirk’s welfare advice services

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Welfare workers are rapidly using up cash reserves as they struggle to maintain services in the face of funding shortfalls

The area’s team of voluntary advisors faces a tough future as financial strains and welfare reforms take hold.

Falkirk Citizens Advice Bureau’s declared aim is to do it’s best to ensure people “do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities, or of the service available to them”.

But it says that goal will be hard to achieve as funding starts to become an issue.

The CAB’s annual report for April 2011 to March 2012 paints a bleak picture of the future, but underlines the voluntary organisation’s com­m­­it­­ment to helping its clients.

CAB manager Bill Palombo said: “Every year brings changes and new challenges - but none as dramatic or as far-reaching as the on-going effects of the downturn in the economy and the UK Government’s welfare reforms.

“The reforms are probably the biggest challenge to the CAB service in decades with regards workload, training requirements and ongoing volunteer support and will result in many people, previously thought of as ‘vulnerable’, having little or no access to additional help and resources.”

Tom Lambie, CAB committee chairman, said: “In past years our finances have continued to be satisfactory.

“But we have now moved into a more critical situation where the surplus of funds that has been accumulated over these past years has started to be used to make up the shortfall in funding income.

“This has been necessary to ensure the service we have been providing would not be diluted. Looking forward to 2012-13 and beyond, the critical factor remains the level of funding.

“By the end of 2013 our unrestricted reserves will be all but gone. Constant cutting of operational costs is carried out in an attempt to maintain the service for which we are recognised, but can only go so far.

“The one certain fact is the future will be tough going.”

Despite these pressures, the CAB continues to provide invaluable support and advice - just ask the client who came in with debt issues and left with benefits advice that resulted in a gain to his household of £10,902.

Overall the CAB had 3558 clients in the year, who raised a total of 8145 enquiries - the top three issues being welfare benefits, debt and employment.

The CAB’s advice helped increase household income to Falkirk Council residents by £1.2 million over the period simply by ensuring they received the benefits their circumstances entitled them to.

Debt continues to be a massive problem with the total amount owed by the CAB’s 142 new multiple debt clients £4.3 million - giving each household an average debt of £30,046. The main things people owed money on were mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and bank loans.

The CAB revealed over half its clients with debt problems were in full time employment, but most of them earn below £15,000 a year and are affected adversely by higher inflation, and fuel costs.