Citizens Advice at 80!

by Marie Henry, CEO, Citizens Advice South West

Marie Henry

Citizens Advice Service is 80 this year! Nationally we have been providing support and advice for local communities since 1939. Admittedly some of the topics have changed from loss of ration books and advice on evacuation to dealing with debt, disability, employment and many other issues. But we’re just as essential to local communities as we were then.

The first 200 bureaus opened on 4th September 1939 – just 4 days after World War 2 started. These bureaus were mostly run by ‘people of standing’ so the local bank manager, school headmaster, editor etc. They offered free advice to people; in wartime it helped to replace lost ration books and put wives and parents in touch with lost sons and husbands in prisoner-of-war camps.

When war broke out, the new centres – set up by the government but run by volunteers – acted as “clearing houses for family and personal problems that abound from war conditions.” Volunteers dealt with the tragedy of war and much like today, debt became a problem when the men who were the wage earners, went off to war.

Not all advice was taken as seriously – shortly after the war a wider range of advice and support was needed with a record of a number of strange requests for help ranging from a request for help to find a goldfish, to a message from two men in Malta for the Monmouthshire office to track them down “two young ladies between the ages of 18 to 25 who are domesticated and don’t use too much make-up.”

South Worcestershire CitA has dealt with 13,000 issues in the last year. We are a small staff team – the equivalent of about 9 full time people – with only 1 full time post (mine) and others doing as little as 2 hours or up to 4 days per week. So without the support of around 95 volunteers – we would not be able to offer services across almost 500 square miles.

However, whilst funding for services reduces, the demand for services increases – in the last 12 months we have seen an increase of 241% in demand for support either with claiming a benefit – the largest proportion being disability benefits – a Disability Living Allowance form has over 60 pages; or for appealing a decision not to pay someone a disability benefit – 80% of our appeals are successful. Employment issues are all up – redundancy up 51%, dismissal up 34% and entitlement advice requests are up 27%.

The top 4 issues are Benefits, Debt, Employment and Housing. People still prefer to come to see us face to face – over 70% of people who come to us, do it in person.

As a celebration of our 80th year of offering free advice we are launching our 80 for 80 campaign. We want 80 different local groups, businesses, organisations, schools etc to help us hold 80 fund-raising events, culminating in a Grand Charity Ball to be held at the Abbey Hotel in Malvern on the 7th November 2019. Events can be as simple as a bake sale, coffee morning, sponsored walk, raffle or as big as a fun run, jumble sale or community event. We will include any organisation or business that joins us in all our promotional activity and hope to be able to make genuine partnerships going forward.

I would be happy to come and chat to you about what we could do for you and your organisation

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