Sleaford’s Citizens Advice service is as busy as ever as it marks the 80th anniversary of the nationwide service being set up.
A celebration afternoon was held at the Citizens Advice Mid Lincolnshire centre in Money’s Yard on Thursday when representatives from funders and community groups came along to find out more about the service.
Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Dr Caroline Johnson joined North Kesteven District Council chairman Susan Waring, Citizens Advice CEO Kingsley Taylor and chairman Ben Ellis in cutting a cake.
Citizen’s Advice Development Manager Kate Bird explained the volunteer-led service originally began the day after the outbreak of the Second World War, designed to advise people on using ration books, help with missing relatives and filling forms for emergency housing when homes were bombed. The staff operated out of mobile offices which would be pitched up beside bomb sites.
After the war ended the service was no longer government backed and became a charity. Citizens Advice Mid Lincolnshire, as it has been known since the Sleaford and Boston branches merged, is funded by Lincolnshire County Council, Boston Borough Council and North Kesteven District Council as well as trusts and foundations that support specific projects such as money advice.
“We are constantly on the look out for funders,” said Kate suggesting now might be the time to donate funds or your time and influence to help the service reach further. “We do as much as we can with the money we get. We have 63 volunteers who are all trained to nationally recognised standards.”
She said: “We have expanded greatly and now do money advice, consumer advice and help people with benefits, relationships, housing and employment. Increasingly we are seeing these problems are interlinked, where a relationship break down causes housing problems and employment issues lead to debt. We will find a way to empower people to solve their problem themselves.”
If vulnerable people cannot do it for themselves, the service can do things to assist.
The roll out of the new Universal Credit system of benefits has brought more problems to the centre’s door, coupled with years of austerity. Kate said: “We are helping people make their first claim, helping them get online, as many may never have used a smart phone or computer.”
They have also done a lot of work with PIPs claims and appeals for disabled and older people. Kate said: “We have a waiting list. Our advisers cannot keep up with the number of people needing help filling in their benefits applications. The forms are long and if the person is unwell you don’t have the strength or the will. Around 70-80 per cent of claims are turned down and it is very difficult to appeal.”
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Sleaford’s Citizen’s Advice service opened in wooden buildings in Money’s Yard in 1986, transferring to the purpose built Advice Centre with the local Tourist Information office on the same site in 2000, opened by the Princess Royal. The service expanded into the vacated tourism office in 2010.
CEO Mr Taylor said: “The most important people are our volunteers who give their services free. We look after 7,300 people a year. It is citizens helping other citizens.”