MORE than 1,600 people were helped by the local Citizens Advice Bureau in the last financial year – with the service continuing to be kept “extremely busy”.
Manager Karen Eunson said 60 per cent of activity related to advice on benefits, with 11 per cent on energy – an increase from the previous year.
During 2021/22 the bureau helped 442 people gain more than £1.5 million, mainly through benefits.
The Lerwick-based service, which is run by staff as well as volunteers, offers free and impartial advice across a range of issues, from benefits and debt to housing and the workplace.
Eunson spoke at a meeting of Lerwick Community Council on Monday to offer an update on the last financial year.
She also put out a call for anyone interested in volunteering at the service to get in touch.
Eunson said the bureau advised on more than 9,600 issues during the last financial year.
Alongside services like benefit checks, it can also refer people to food parcels and fuel vouchers for emergency help.
“We always try to offer holistic support,” Eunson said.
The meeting heard that people not accessing benefits they may be entitled to is a big problem nationally, with reports for example that more than £20bn was unclaimed in the UK in 2016/17.
Eunson stressed that benefits are used to help people in need – not to pay for “fancy yachts and foreign holidays”.
The meeting also heard that the cost of living in Shetland is around 20 to 60 per cent higher than the mainland – while the percentage of households in fuel poverty is anticipated to rise to more than 44 per cent follow energy price rises.
“There are no easy solutions,” Eunson said, adding that people switching energy supplier was no longer the quick fix it used to be.
The manager added that volunteers are the “backbone” of the in-demand service.
Eunson said the bureau is “going to need a very strong spine to get us through this year”.
The topic of smart meters was raised by community councillor Andrew Emmerson – a caseworker for Alistair Carmichael, who said the MP’s office is seeing an “influx” of correspondence from constituents on the matter.
Eunson said the service has seen a number of problems with them, including smart meters not being installed in the right location.
Meanwhile Lerwick South councillor Cecil Smith repeated his suggestion that the SIC could tap into its reserves to help with the cost of living crisis.
“I think we are in a situation where something needs to be done,” he said.
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