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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Locals tackle £11m in debts

AROUND £11million of debt was dealt with by Copeland Citizens Advice Bureau in one year, figures reveal.

The charity helped local people, over 2011-12, deal with “non-priority” debts built up on credit cards or catalogues, bank loans or payday loans.

Over the same period, Copeland CAB also dealt with 7,491 debt-related enquiries, with more than 4,500 new clients seeking help on a variety of issues.

And the CAB predicts a further rise in people seeking help this year after the benefit shake-up and the introduction of the bedroom tax.

Shelley Hewitson, deputy manager at Copeland Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “We see people from all walks of life; from those who are unemployed to people with full-time jobs.”

Shortage of money continues to dominate the lives of those who seek help. For instance, the CAB has issued 24 food vouchers to local families in the last month, including nine in the last week alone.

“When people come to us it is usually when they are at crisis point,’’ Shelley said. “We would like them to know they can come to us when they receive their first letter, not only when they have drawers full of letters. We hope to help clients prevent reaching a crisis.

“If we can’t find a solution to someone’s problems, then we will signpost them to another agency that can.

“In 2011/12 we dealt with 17,000 issues. What might seem like a small problem to one person may be making someone very anxious. Everyone’s worry is valid and important to us.

“We know we can make a difference because clients tells us that after talking to us they can sleep at night, are more relaxed and have had a weight lifted from their shoulders.”

Copeland CAB, which has offices in Whitehaven and Millom, offers free, confidential, independent and impartial advice on issues such as debt, welfare benefits, employment, housing and consumer problems.

It also works with a wide range of agencies, and offers outreach services in local GP surgeries, at Copeland Council offices, Cleator Moor Town Hall and the DeLucy Centre in Egremont, as well as a telephone advice service.

Debt and budgeting advice is also offered through money management sessions as well as how to switch to access the best energy deals. And there is also a MacMillan welfare benefits advisor, who offers help and support.

CAB staff are also aware of the bigger picture with clients’ issues. If the same problem keeps cropping up, they can gather that information locally, regionally and nationally CABs and use it, if necessary, to encourage Government to change policy. “It can be a powerful lobby tool,’’ Shelley said.

From next Monday, Copeland CAB will be introducing a new client and data recording system which will help gather increased information to further support clients and access more funding.

To enable staff to familiarise themselves with the new system, opening times for September will change, for one month, to Monday, 10-4pm, Tuesday, 10-2pm and Thursday, 10am-2pm (Whitehaven office) and Monday, 9am-1pm and Thursday, 9am-1pm (Millom office). Telephone advice from Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm.

Copeland CAB is looking for volunteers to work as advisors, administration support and as trustee board members.

For further information contact Whitehaven CAB office on 01946 693321, Millom office on 01229 772395 or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

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