Changes in benefits see more seek help

CHANGES to benefits are causing more people to turn to help points in Bognor Regis and Chichester.

The past year saw 7,149 cases linked to the payments handled by the advisers at the Arun 
and Chichester Citizen’s 
Advice Bureau.

This made the matter by far the biggest category dealt with by the volunteers at the three centres in Bognor, Chichester and Littlehampton.

The next biggest was debt, with 5,940 cases. Combined, the two areas far outstripped the total of 11,423 cases of other issues such as jobs (2,463), housing (2,248) and relationships (1,907).

Debbie Dawes, the bureau’s operations manager, said she expected the trend to continue.

“The issues are getting more of a problem. The changes to the benefits system are causing people to turn to us.

“It concerns the new Universal Credit, but other benefits as well.

“People are getting letters about the changes, but they don’t understand what they are about.

“I’m sure this will carry on until the changes settle down.”

The figures were revealed at the bureau’s annual meeting last Thursday at the Opengate Church in Bognor.

Operations manager Ray Fowler told the meeting: “In this year, we have started to gather evidence resulting from the issue of the caps to local housing benefit which have affected households and the restrictions on how much rent the local authority will contribute to a tenant on a low income or in receipt of benefits, which is calculated according to the size of the property.

“With such evidence, we attempt to influence policy-makers to make changes which result in getting a fairer deal for everyone.”

At the meeting, network development manager Chris Finney, of the Citizen’s Advice national organisation, predicted the future would become more focused on the internet.

The service had already linked with the Mumsnet site with success.

“Piggybacking on other people’s websites is possibly a good idea,” he said. “We could think about linking to the One Direction website. We know they have millions of fans among an age group who are usually under-represented among other clients.

“We could get someone to pose a question about leaving home and what they would need to know.

“That would be a fantastic way of getting advice to a lot of people who might be in a similar situation or thinking about it.”

Another way to make use of IT would be to have chatrooms with advisers providing immediate responses to questions. But this would mean those visiting the centres would be people who lacked the internet or who were unable to use it. “A big chunk of people who used to come to the centres will be able to access services electronically from home,” he said.