Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau witnesses spike in calls for help

THIS January the Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau is getting ready for what could be its busiest month ever.

Requests for help have spiked over the last two years and staff feel that demand will continue to rise as more people battle the hardships of losing employment, adapting to cuts in benefits, and coping with rising household expenses.

Although the charity is well known and established, many people have a hazy understanding of what they do.

“There isn’t really ever a typical day in terms of the people we see or situations we are asked to give advice about,” said manager Kate Robson.

“Around 30 per cent of the people we see are those we perhaps regularly help – for example they may need support because English isn’t their first language or they have hearing or speech difficulties.

“A significant percentage of our regular clients have health (mental or physical) challenges, means they may rely more heavily on the benefit system, or have more difficulties retaining work and therefore may use us more often.

“The remaining 70 per cent only use the service when they feel the need for extra help or perhaps have a problem they don’t feel they can discuss with people close to them. This could be debt, a family breakdown, job loss, caring issues, bereavement, a consumer issue, domestic violence, a bailiff at the door, homelessness, or simply, they just can’t make ends meet.”

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Help is at hand. Each CAB session is run by a supervisor who is responsible for the quality of advice and the level of service provided each day.

CAB typically has seven volunteers on each session: four trained advisers, two advice assistants and a receptionist.

Advice assistants answer phones or see people who may drop into the office at Barnards Yard, Saffron Walden. They will have a short talk with a person to assess the urgency of the problem and decide whether CAB is the organisation to help.

Mrs Robson said: “We often make referrals to other caring agencies with whom we work closely and they will send on clients to us too.

“If someone does have an emergency situation, perhaps we are concerned about their wellbeing, or the situation needs an urgent legal remedy, we will always make room to see them on the day.

“In more routine cases appointments will be made at a convenient time and the client will be asked to bring in relevant paperwork, which will ensure we provide the most helpful advice. Gone are the days when people had to wait two hours to see someone.”

Advisers currently deal with about five appointments a day and spend time with each person to ensure that they have a really good understanding of the issue, they then write up the details of the advice given and will undertake any necessary phone calls and follow-up work.

The service remains free, confidential and impartial for everyone and the charity is focused on trying to help as many people as possible across the district – through the main offices in Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow, and outreaches in Thaxted and Stansted Mountfitchet.

Although the vast majority of the work is done by volunteers, costs have increased. If you feel you would like to support the charity, donations can be posted to: Uttlesford CAB, Barnards Yard, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4EB.

Local trusts or businesses that would like to help people in the community get advice and support can call Mrs Robson on 01799 526577.