A vital Banbury debt and benefits advice service is struggling to meet demands in the face of increasing numbers of people in debt and changes to the welfare benefits system.
Barbara Shaw, chief executive of Banbury Citizens Advice Bureau said yesterday (Wednesday) the number of people being turned away when seeking advice at the centre in Market Place has doubled from seven to 15 per week since April 2012.
She said: “It’s a combination of different things. Welfare reforms mean a lot of people are having to come in because their benefits no longer meet their essential outgoings.
“Before you could always be certain benefits you received paid for your basic outgoings.
“That’s not the case any more and there are a lot more people in debt due to a reduction in income or changes in interest rates on their mortgages and many other reasons.”
Mrs Shaw said the so called ‘bedroom tax’ introduced in the autumn means those with an additional room are losing 14 per cent of their housing benefit – 25 per cent if they are single.
She said: “If you’ve got a single person getting £70 per week benefit to live on, they’re having to find 25 per cent of their housing benefit out of this £70.” The CAB is working with clients to help them access additional payments to make up for the shortfall, but Mrs Shaw said they need “long term solutions”.
The increase in demand first became clear last week when Mrs Shaw presented the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee with a review of the CAB’s work since April 2012, when it was subcontracted by Cherwell to provide advice services for three years.
Mrs Shaw said she was “very pleased” with the partnership with Cherwell District Council which she said had been “very generous” in its funding provision.
However, she remains concerned Oxfordshire County Council may decide to reduce funding from other advice organisations from 2015 to help keep pace with a £64 million cut in its government grant.
She said any cuts to West Oxfordshire CAB which provides support for under 16s with learning difficulties across Cherwell, and to Oxfordshire Welfare Rights which offers advice on appeals against decisions on welfare benefits, would have a knock-on effect on Banbury CAB’s ability to cope with demand. She said all CAB centres are constantly seeking alternative sources of funding.
Cherwell’s Labour group leader Sean Woodcock said his party was concerned because Cherwell had assured it the contract with the CAB would cover all advice needs despite the closure of Banbury’s Oxfordshire Advice Centre in August 2012.