Debt advice funding doubt

Joe Michna

Joe Michna

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DEBT experts have described plans to withdraw funding for a specialist advice service as a “devastating blow” – but vowed to continue helping people with money problems.

Joe Michna, manager of Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau, spoke out after the Government announced plans to withdraw funding for the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) programme from the end of March.

Mr Michna said it will lead to the loss of highly-skilled debt advice caseworkers who work closely with clients to manage their debts.

The caseworkers negotiate with creditors on the client’s behalf to try and get more manageable payments and Mr Michna said their loss will lead to a big gap in the services they provide.

Hartlepool CAB, which is based in Park Road, employed three debt advice caseworkers using around £95,000 of funding from the FIF programme.

But from the end of March those staff will be made redundant leaving the bureau, which has received FIF funding since 2006, without any dedicated debt advice caseworkers.

Mr Michna said: “The FIF programme has had a huge benefit to the bureau and our clients. The funding that we received from the Government has allowed us to employ one full-time debt caseworker and two part-time debt caseworkers. These staff are now sadly under notice of redundancy from March 31.

“The decision by the Government not to refund this programme is a devastating blow to the Hartlepool CAB and of course other citizens’ advice bureaus.

“It means that from April 1, we shall have no dedicated staff resources for our debt advice service.

“Although nationally citizens’ advice are lobbying the Government hard to come up with a new package of funding, presently there is no guarantee of any further funding.”

He added: “We shall of course continue to offer local residents advice with their debts, but we shall not be able to offer them the kind of in-depth help and assistance that we have previously been able to offer.

“We are also seeking to obtain funding from other sources for our debt advice services.”

The FIF programme was set up six years ago in areas of deprivation and a review of debt advice services is ongoing.

A Treasury spokeswoman said the department was hoping topriovide new sources of funding and added: “We want to make sure that individuals facing financial difficulty can get advice early, rather than wait until their problems become much more difficult to resolve.

“We have been looking for new ways to encourage debtors to seek this support in our call for evidence on consumer credit and insolvency.

“The Government has already announced a free and impartial national financial advice service.

“The service will include a financial health check, which will encourage people to think holistically about their finances and will include a free, personalised action plan.

“Both of these initiatives are being developed by the Consumer Financial Education Body.”

l REACTION to Hartlepool Borough Council’s budget cut proposals: Page 14.

l What do you think about the Government cutbacks? Write to the Mail at New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool TS24 8BX, log on to www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk or www.peterleemail.co.uk or email mail.news@northeast-press.co.uk