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Downturn puts CAB under pressure

Shetland Charitable Trust has boosted its support for the local Citizens Advice Bureau which is facing a growing demand for its services.

The trust has increased its core funding for CAB’s Lerwick office to almost £150,000 to help pay for an extra welfare rights worker.

2010 was the local bureau’s busiest year during which it helped 245 clients with debts of over £3.2m, helped claimants access an extra £1.5m welfare benefit and doubled the number of employment tribunals it assisted.

Pressure has grown to the point that managers at Market House are now putting clients on a waiting list, and specialist welfare rights advisers are having to focus solely on disability and sickness issues.

CAB provides the islands’ only service offering free, independent, confidential advice on a wide range of welfare issues. This year the trust has increased its core funding from £132,265 to £147,383.

Extra funds come from Shetland Islands Council and the Scottish government for specific services, such as community mediation, family mediation, community care advice and children’s rights, but manager Les Irving says the trust’s contribution is the lifeblood of the organisation.

“The funding from Shetland Charitable Trust is the lifeblood of CAB in Shetland, and last year we used that investment to bring an extra £1.5 million in extra benefits for islanders. And we should remember that every pound that comes in through that door is worth £7 to the local economy,” Mr Irving said.

Today the local office employs ten full time and six part time staff with 35 unpaid volunteers giving up hundreds of hours every year to help.

Requests for help have mushroomed from around 2,200 in 1999 to almost 12,000 ten years later. At the same time the complexity of cases has increased, with staff now regularly helping people through employment and benefit tribunals and bankruptcy.

Now the bureau is gearing itself up for even more pressure on its services with welfare benefit changes and the economic downturn.

Deputy manager Sylvia Jamieson said: “We now have to operate a waiting list for debt clients and benefit clients, and I can’t see that changing. It can only get worse.

“At present our benefit advisers can only deal with ill health and sickness benefit cases, and I think we will see more folk coming through the door.”

As people struggle with money issues, CAB staff witness the knock on effect on their health as they grapple with the stresses around housing, employment and relationship problems caused by their tightening circumstances, all of which can put further pressure on the public purse.

Trust general manager Ann Black said she was only too well aware of the value the bureau’s work.

“These are difficult times for many people and unfortunately Shetland Charitable Trust is not immune from the need to restrict its funding.

“Nevertheless we recognise the enormous importance of the work carried out by the excellent staff and volunteers at CAB, who are helping a growing number of local people who find themselves victims of the current financial situation affecting us all.”