ANDREW PELLING reports on the gathering pressure on the borough’s voluntary sector
Croydon Citizen Advice Bureau last year handled a record number of enquiries, with an increase in demand for help of more than 10 per cent – and that was before the government-imposed pilot on benefit caps in the borough introduced this month.
“Problems with benefits are always some of the most common problems that we see,” said Jess Sumner, the chief executive of Croydon’s CAB.
“But this year the number is higher than ever.
“Every day we see people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads or put food on the table as wage squeezes, price rises and benefit cuts wreak havoc on household budgets.”
Sumner was speaking at a special event staged to mark her standing down from the position, at what happens to be a testing time for the charity not just because of the demand on its already stretched services, but also because Croydon Council has forced the organisation to close its largest office at Strand House in Thornton Heath, while there has been a delay in opening a temporary office in what used to be the adult education centre in Sandown Road, South Norwood.
“There are big changes to the welfare system coming in this year and we’re concerned that a lot of people don’t yet know what will happen or how it will affect them,” Sumner said.
“People will need a lot of support and information to cope, and we’re expecting a huge influx of people struggling to manage the change. I would urge anyone who thinks that they may be affected to contact us for free, confidential and independent advice as soon as possible – you don’t need to wait until you’re struggling before getting help.”
In all, Croydon Citizens’ Advice saw 4,851 clients in the past financial year and and 14,500 issues were dealt with – including debt problems, welfare benefits issues, employment and housing.
The charity has secured a contract from Croydon Council to offer independent housing advice to Croydon residents for the next three years. The council tendered out this responsibility to save its own costs.
CCAB has also been working with the council to try to deal with the increased demand for advice as a result of the welfare reforms and they have opened a new service in Taberner House – or “Access Croydon” – to offer those affected by the welfare reforms access to independent advice services.
People needing information about their problems may access information themselves via the Citizens Advice online resource, Adviceguide.
In a sign of how such work will come to rely even more on private charity as the
public sector cuts back, the farewell event saw David Carroll, a CCAB volunteer and
master of Springfied Masonic Lodge, presenting a cheque for £3,160.34 to help pay
towards the furnishings at the new offices in South Norwood.
The Springfield Lodge has donated more than £130,000 to Croydon and Surrey charities in the past four years, according to Carroll.
The masons will have to be raising ever more as the council cuts back on its spending to support the needy, while Croydon Central’s Conservative MP Gav “the Bag Man” Barwell boasts of what he sees as the merits of capping benefits at a 1 per cent increase – well below inflation.
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