NORTH Lancashire Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has helped people in Lancaster and Morecambe shed more than £1.3m worth of debt over the past year.
In the Lancaster district alone in 2011/12, the local CAB has managed £9.3m worth of debt and dealt with 6,290 clients with 15,614 different issues.
Austin Staunton, who became chief officer of north Lancashire CAB when Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham merged last year, said people were finding it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water as the government looks to cut £18bn from welfare spending.
This coupled with the removal of Legal Aid from next year, and charities having their funding cut, is also making it difficult for the CAB to provide an effective service for people in need of help.
Mr Staunton said: “The workload is increasing, but in particular it’s the complexity of it. People are getting into debts that involve much higher interest rates than before, because of the rise of pay day loans and the difficulty in borrowing from the banks.
“Unemployment is high, but there are also a lot of people who are on very low incomes.
“They may be in employment, but they’re struggling just as much – we’re dealing with people with mortgage arrears but interest rates have never been lower.”
The government’s introduction of Work Capability Assessments is also having a devastating effect on those claiming sickness and incapacity benefits.
The CAB’s annual report stated: “The poor quality of these assessments is forcing many severely sick and disabled claimants onto job seekers allowance. This leads to loss of income and a severe deterioration in many claimants health conditions.”
Mr Staunton said: “There’s a big emphasis on people claiming benefits when they’re not entitled to, but our experience is that people are not getting the benefits to which they are entitled.”
Mr Staunton painted a bleak yet honest picture of the welfare system, and said a major concern for the CAB was the removal of Legal Aid from April next year, which will end specialist help for people in employment, welfare benefits, and most of debt and housing advice.
This would mean “access to justic in these subjects will only be available for those who can pay,” according to the CAB.
Mr Staunton said: “This funding provides the staff that provide the service to clients.We’ve got a dilemma that where the need for services is rising, there’s a real danger that our funding is cut as well, and therefore our ability to help people will be limited.
“But there are things that can still be done, even if people think there aren’t, which is why they should come to us.”