Advice cuts fear despite demand hike

CITIZENS’ advice chiefs may have to close some of their outreach services after funding was cut - despite record numbers of people needing their help.

East Durham Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) runs 15 outreach services in the former Easington district for people who may not be able to get to its main branch in Peterlee’s Castle Dene Shopping Centre.

But the community-based services may have to be cut, or have their hours reduced, as CAB bosses struggle to find the £40,000 a year needed to run them.

The cost pays for the salaries of two outreach workers, though one could be out of a job by the summer if the cash isn’t found.

Another member of the outreach team has reduced her hours through choice.

Around 1,400 people have used the community-based service so far this financial year, compared to 1,100 the year before.

East Durham CAB chief executive Neil Bradbury said funding for the outreach service previously came from the Big Lottery, the National Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the East Durham LEADER.

He added: “Durham County Councillors, through their neighbourhood budget funds, stepped into the breach but that money runs out at the end of June.

“A board of the bureau have decided to put some money in to keep some of the services going but we are going to either have to move some outreach services to fortnightly instead of weekly or one or two may have to close.

“It’s always been a struggle to find funding for the service every year.

“As a bureau we put in about £15,000 to keep a limited service going.”

He said there had been an “explosion” in the numbers of users and added that this is the bureau’s busiest time of year.

Mr Bradbury said another expansion in service was through housing benefit and disability benefit changes.

He said CAB are writing to local councillors and parish councils to see if they can help the service to continue.

“We are stretching every sinew to make sure people don’t notice much of a difference,” he added.

“But in some rural villages, it will mean they won’t have an outreach location on their doorstep or it will be fortnightly rather than weekly.

“But it will mean in some cases people will find it harder to get advice.” East Durham CAB runs its main offices from Peterlee and Seaham but has 15 outreach services based in locations like community centres and libraries, with 16 staff and 40 volunteers.

They are based in villages including Blackhall, Horden, Easington, Wingate, Shotton, Haswell, Thornley, Wingate, Wheatley Hill and Trimdon.

Durham County Council funds the main bureaus but Mr Bradbury said this has been cut, with a 15 per cent decrease seeing CAB receive £120,000 last year, with further cuts of five per cent over the next two years.

Mr Bradbury said outreach services held in GP surgeries aren’t affected by the changes and there is still a telephone appointment line on (0191) 5862639.