Citizens advice swamped with calls as benefit changes bite in Hartlepool

Joe Michna
Joe Michna

An advice service says it is experiencing unprecedented demand for help from people affected by the government’s welfare reforms.

Citizens Advice Hartlepool has received an extra 1,500 calls to its phone advice service in the first three months of 2016 compared with the same period the previous year.

Hartlepool Citizens Advice staff, from left, Jill Hutton, Angie Brough, Janet Noble, Julie Pennick, Julie Lloyd, Beverley Goodwin and Ann Brown, outside the Park Road offices.

Hartlepool Citizens Advice staff, from left, Jill Hutton, Angie Brough, Janet Noble, Julie Pennick, Julie Lloyd, Beverley Goodwin and Ann Brown, outside the Park Road offices.

And staff say up to 30 new clients a day are visiting the service for advice and support, putting strain on existing resources.

Managers say the increase in demand is being driven largely by changes to people’s benefits, and they are urgently looking for new volunteer staff.

Joe Michna, manager of Citizens Advice Hartlepool, said: “We are seeing a very large increase in welfare benefit enquiries, this includes benefit appeals, JSA sanctions, claims for the Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance.

“Citizens Advice Hartlepool is urgently seeking new volunteer staff to help it provide its services to the local community.”

We are seeing a very large increase in welfare benefit enquiries

Joe Michna, Citizens Advice Hartlepool manager

Calls to its telephone advice service increased by 50% in January to March, an additional 1,500.

An average of 35 people a day try to contact the advice service by phone but it only provides the phone service for the equivalent of two days a week due to resources.

And demand for its face-to-face advice service has increased by 35% over the same period compared with last year.

Mr Michna added: “We rely heavily on well-trained and well-supported volunteer staff to help provide our services to the local community.

“Due to a loss of some of our long-standing volunteers and also the unprecedented demand for our services, we urgently need to recruit new voluntary staff.”

Volunteer roles include advice worker, gateway assessor, receptionist or administrative worker.

All new volunteers receive a full training programme and it is looking for people who can give between eight and 10 hours a week.

The office deals with a wide range of enquiries and requests for help, including for advice on debt, welfare benefit entitlement, employment law, consumer rights, energy and fuel problems, taxes, housing and homelessness.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact recruitment and training officer Janet Noble by emailing tutor@hartlepool.cabnet.org.uk, call (01429) 408417 or visit 87 Park Road, Hartlepool.