“In the past year, we saw people continue to come to us with a wide range of problems, but standing out in this was the continued impact of the tightening of welfare reform.
Over 1 in 3 of the problems people brought to us were related to welfare benefits, and our gain for them of £1,065,233 in benefits income alone in the year provided much needed income for essentials.
Almost 1 in 5 of the issues brought to us involved debt, often significant and emotionally draining for the people involved. Housing and employment issues followed closely and with these issues often arriving in a bundle, the skills of our advisors and assessors came to the fore as they unpicked to find and address the causes of the issues.
Amongst this turbulence, we continued to work closely and innovatively with our partners, existing and new, looking for changes that widen our advice service to serve local people better in this changing world.
As the population of the Borough grows and as Central Government appears committed to reducing the deficit through cuts to public spending, we expect to see demand for our services increase, but in new ways.
The biggest of these is in the increasing demand for phone access, plus across wider hours, and so much of the latter half of the year was spent in preparing for the move to join the national Adviceline phone service in order to take advantage of the scale of the service on oﬀer.
This year has also seen some welcome improvements to our operations, as the National Citizens Advice service continues to respond to the same changing social and economic landscape, albeit on a national scale.
These include new membership agreements and governance for local ‘Bureau’ offices such as ourselves, new advice-support tools, adoption of common ‘cloud’ technology allowing greater flexibility in where we work, including faster broadband for us in Epsom, and most “publicly”, the continued rollout of the new branding.
I believe that the changes we have seen will make our service easier to access and position us to be ready to address issues and problems of local people for the years to come. But in this sea of change, one thing remains constant: we couldn’t deliver this without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers who form the heart of our service, and we give huge thanks to them for this.”
— Liz Dobson, Chief Executive Officer