Thousands of people seek help from Hartlepool advice service in last year

Joe Michna
Joe Michna
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A Hartlepool advice service helped more than 4,600 people in the last year including almost 1,000 with debts totalling £6.5million.

Citizens Advice Hartlepool says the level of debt people are dealing with has not gone down over the last 12 months and can have a “devastating impact” including people losing their homes.

Christopher Akers-Belcher. Picture by FRANK REID

Christopher Akers-Belcher. Picture by FRANK REID

Managers also say a large amount of their time was spent helping people to deal with the impact of Government changes to their benefits including supporting claimants to appeal decisions.

It also helped clients save over £2million from a combination of switching energy providers, alerting them to unclaimed benefits, debts written off or debt relief orders, successful welfare appeals and recovering money owed from employers.

The citizens advice bureau, based in Park Road, released the figures as part of its annual report.

Bureau manager Joe Michna said: “2015/2016 was another very eventful and busy year for the organisation with a very high demand for our services from the local community.

Excessive personal debt can have a devastating impact on individuals and their families

Joe Michna, Citizens Advice Hartlepool manager

“The impact of the Government’s welfare reforms has had a very big effect on our work and a lot of our time has been taken up by helping people with reviews and appeals on decisions on their benefit entitlement.

“Our Housing Advice and Tenancy Support service have also had a successful year in helping people who are homeless find affordable and decent accommodation.

“We also have ran a very successful energy and fuel advice service during the year which has helped hundreds of people with a range of issues with fuel supplies, switching energy providers and energy savings advice.

“Overall, a challenging and demanding year.”

Harlepool CAB debt advice team score highly in official audit.
From left Janet Noble, Julie Lloyd, Jill Hutton and Ann Brown with CAB manager Joe Michna

Harlepool CAB debt advice team score highly in official audit. From left Janet Noble, Julie Lloyd, Jill Hutton and Ann Brown with CAB manager Joe Michna

Between April 2015 and this year, the service advised and helped 4,600 clients and their families, recorded 21,500 client contacts including new and repeat interviews including almost 1,000 with debt problems.

Debt issues related to problems repaying credit cards, council tax, bank loans, tax credit overpayments, secured loans, mobile phones and rent arrears. Mr Michna added: “Led by our debt advice team, we dealt with over a 1,000 people with debt related problems and I was very proud of our the debt advice team when they gained a 95% score on a quality of advice audit carried out by the Money Advice Service.

“Excessive personal debt can have a devastating impact on individuals and their families.

“This can include anxiety, stress and depression, relationship breakdown, loss of a home and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.

“The golden rule is to seek advice and assistance as early as possible. We can offer a range of possible remedies for personal debt which include debt relief orders, bankruptcy, Individual Voluntary Arrangements and Debt management Plans.

“Our advice is therefore, do not delay, get advice early.”

It also advised and assisted 235 clients with welfare benefit appeals, provided advocacy service for 225 clients with mental capacity issues and carried out 240 home visits.

Clients using the service came from all area of the town with the top four wards in terms of client numbers being from Victoria Ward (14.4%), Manor House (14.1%), Burn Valley (12.3%) and Foggy Furze (11.3%) of all clients.

In May, its debt service achieved a 95% positive score from the external Debt Advice Team in its first peer review under new quality framework arrangements.

The service as a whole also came through a successful Citizens Advice audit and has extending partnership working with other organisations.

During 2015/2016, Citizens Advice Hartlepool received funding a number of organisations including The Money Advice Service, Lloyds Bank Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, Northern Rock Foundation, The Big Lottery Fund, Northgate Public Services and Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group.