ADVICE experts are gearing up for an influx of calls as the Government’s benefit changes bite.
South Tyneside Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is opening an advice and information call centre from Monday and expects a 40 per cent increase in demand for its services – on top of the 50 per cent increase it has experienced since 2009.
From Monday, people in South Tyneside will be able to get advice and information over the phone and even have information factsheets on a wide range of subjects posted or e-mailed to them
These will cover issues such as debt, welfare benefits, housing, employment, consumer and family issues.
The call centre will allow those people with general inquiries to have them resolved without leaving the house.
CAB manager Karin Fox said “This is a significant development of our services in South Tyneside as we try to meet the existing demand and prepare for additional increases due to changes in benefit legislation.
“Telephone advice will not suit everyone, but by dealing with less complex inquiries over the phone it will free up our ‘face to face’ advisers to deal with the more complex cases.”
Last year, the bureau dealt with about 33,000 inquiries, with debt and welfare benefits accounting for about 80 per cent of the total.
Proposed changes arising from the Welfare Reform Act will significantly impact on South Tyneside, given the levels of benefit dependency and the lack of job opportunities as compared with other parts of the country.
Most of the changes take effect in October, but the bedroom tax and personal independence payments, which replaces disability living allowance, take effect this month.
Ian Thompson, CAB chief executive officer, said: “We are already seeing our inquiries increase as changes in council tax support impact on household budgets.
“Some of our clients will be left with little or no available money once they have paid their priority debts. It is important to remember these changes are being implemented by central Government and we are working closely with the local council to co-ordinate and streamline advice provision in order to offer the best possible service to those who need help.”
The changes to the welfare benefit system also come at a time when Government alterations to legal aid funding have resulted in South Tyneside CAB losing about £270,000 of its income and much of its work under the legal aid scheme.
Mr Thompson added “Despite the cuts to our funding, we have restructured our operations to ensure it can continue to offer advice and assistance.”
n Anyone requiring advice and assistance on any subject can visit CAB during its opening times, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10am to 1pm, at the South Shields office, 2 Station Approach, South Shields, or Tuesday and Thursday, 10am to 1pm, at the Jarrow office, 8 Grange Road West, Jarrow.
The advice and information call centre will be open Monday to Friday on 08444 994 715 from April 8.