Save Staffordshire's Citizens Advice service

Staffordshire County Council have invested in the county's Citizens Advice service for over 30 years in various ways, from creating the first specialist debt advice service in the county to the latest incarnation of a countywide advice line backed up with a limited face to face service. All this is in jeopardy because of a £15 million hole in their finances caused by the NHS pulling money out of the Better Care Fund.

What has a fund set up specifically to improve the coordination of health and social care to do with a debt, benefits and consumer advice service? Beats me, but among the cuts proposed to deal with this shortfall is the decision to end all and any financial support to the county's Citizens Advice Bureaux.

In the two years that the new advice line service has been running it has helped over 55,000 local residents resolve their debt, benefits, employment, housing and family problems. For many it has been a lifeline, giving them their only access to advice. Clearly there is a demand and one that is only going to increase as the government's welfare reforms are rolled out. The impending reduction in the benefit cap will see more and more families affected, losing housing benefit and potentially losing their home. Having access to advice by phone will help them avoid the worst consequences of their situation. Without it many will be unable to seek help elsewhere.

This is one of what I think are major arguments in favour of the service: it helps prevent problems escalating to the point where they require expensive statutory interventions and to cut it is a false economy.

In justifying the cuts the county has suggested that the increased number of people in work means the demand for advice will fall. Hooey, I say. 40% or more of people using the advice line are in work: starting work doesn't remove the need for advice it just changes it. And as the Uber ruling shows many people working in the so-called 'gig' economy have simply swapped unearned poverty for earned poverty. The government's panic over to cost of in-work benefits and tax credits shows that many working people can not survive on wages alone. If they are reliant on tax credits or benefits then they will need advice not about entitlement and claims but dealing with reviews, appeals and legally complex disputes.

The county also think that existing frontline staff can deal with many of the residual issues. Hmmm. It might have escaped their notice that in order to give debt advice, or any advice on debts regulated by the consumer credit act, must be licensed to do so or risk incurring the wrath of the Financial Conduct Authority. And not have any old license but one specifically for debt advice. CABx have such licenses; most other organisations don't.

So if you think Staffordshire residents need access to advice, please sign our petition before November 21st to help persuade the county to think again. The petition can be found at



This entry was posted on November 4, 2016

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