Debts and benefits make up most of the work at centres

DEBT and benefits continued to dominate the workload of help points in Bognor Regis and Chichester.

The two problem areas dominated the issues which were tackled by the Arun and Chichester Citizen’s Advice Bureau in the past year.

The 112 volunteers and specialists in the bureau’s three centres handled 8,892 cases of benefits and 7,719 of debt as the tough economic conditions continued to hit the budgets of residents.

They made up more than half of the total 31,847 issues with which the experts were asked to help.

Other major problem areas included jobs, housing, relationships and legal.

The facts were revealed at the bureau’s annual meeting held recently at the Opengate Church in Bognor.

Bureau operations manager Ray Fowler stated he expected the matters to continue to dominate the bureau’s workload.

“The main areas of social policy evidence issues dealt with this year were welfare benefits, debt, housing and employment, which together formed 75 per cent of the total issues identified,” he said.

“With the impact of recession, and the challenging effects of the government’s Welfare Reform Bill, we expect these areas will continue to remain as the most prominent of all the social policy issues that will be of concern in the coming year.”

Carol Groves, the bureau’s chief executive officer, also warned: “The Welfare Reform Act will affect virtually all benefits for working age people.

“This will have a big impact on us as a bureau. And it is vital, therefore, that we have a high presence at any relevant external forums in our community.”

The value of the bureau – which also operates in Littlehampton – was shown in some success stories from the year to March 31 relayed at the meeting. These included an £11,000 loan written off for a client, and £600 compensation and £3,764 Disability Living Allowance – plus £2,361 backdated – to another client. A further disabled client had more than £12,000 of debts written off with the bureau’s help.

The bureau has strong links with the Macmillan Cancer Support charity and the Royal British Legion.

The Macmillan service helped 181 cancer patients receive almost half a million pounds in benefits in 2011/12.

For the Legion, the help is available to ex-Forces personnel or their partners.