Will Leighton Citizens Advice have to turn people away?

Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade
Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade has issued a stark warning about its finances as it reveals it expects a £20,000 deficit for the current financial year.

The service, which provides valuable assistance to thousands of residents on a range of topics every year, doesn’t expect the pressure on its coffers to ease in 2017-18 either – warning of a further potential shortfall of up to £30,000.

Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

This could lead to a reduced service at its Bossard House, West Street base, and having to turn people away if extra revenue streams aren’t found.

Central Beds Council’s recent budget paperwork stated that by 2020-21 it was looking to reduce grants to Citizens Advice across the district by 6% (£19,000) but has added it was “working with Citizens Advice to mitigate the risk”.

Core funding from Central Beds is expected to remain the same in 2017-18 (subject to budget approval), but Citizens Advice fears that an additional £13,000 handed over by the council to cope with increase demands brought about by welfare reform changes, may stop.

During 2016/17, as in previous years, Leighton-Linslade Town Council also gave the local Citizens Advice a £15,000 grant and the service says the money is gratefully accepted but swallowed up by training for volunteers, the need to keep its reference/information services accurate and based on the latest legislation, plus a contribution to its ‘casework’ money adviser salary.

In a report to the town council, Citizen’s Advice boss David Wood said the service had maintained the same opening hours as 2015-16 and continues to operate an outreach service at a GP surgery and at the TACTIC centre.

But commenting on the projected losses, his report states: “We hope to offset some of this loss by our participation in a new Lottery funded project funded where we will be delivering tailored support to unemployed adults.

“This will include budgeting, IT skills, CVs, interviewing and employability skills designed to improve a participant’s ability to gain employment. If we meet our project outcome targets then we hope to generate income of around £10,000 in each of the next two years.

“We continue to seek other funding and have an active fundraising group led by our Trustee Board. However we are likely to have a potential deficit of up to £30,000 in 2017/18. This would not be sustainable from our reserves and so we will be looking closely at our position over the next few months to decide if we need to make reductions in costs. If so, then this will mean a reduction in client services.”

Mr Wood further told the LBO this week: “We are a charity and it’s always been a situation that 70 to 80% of our funding has come through Central Beds Council and the town council, and we have been reponsible for finding the rest.

“In the last few years we have picked up contract work but that has now come to an end and we have not been able to get as much in.”

Of the anticipated 2016-17 losses, he added: “This was planned deficit and we were expecting it, but it is not sustainable in the longer term. We always need to seek new funding, and are always looking at activities to raise funds - we have a fundraising concert next month.

“We are not at risk of closure in the next 12 months, but we need another £10,000 from other sources in the next few months.

“We expect the deficit in 2017-18 to be between £10,000 to £30,000, hopefully it will be nearer £10,000.”

Mr Wood added: “I would say there is no risk of closure while we continue to receive ‘core’ funding from the two councils.

“Although a significant part of our services are delivered by trained volunteers, the majority of our expenditure relates to our small team of paid staff who provide essential supervision and also deliver specialist money advice casework.

“If we are unable to raise other funds to reduce the deficit then we would need to look at staff reductions which would mean fewer opening hours and/or reducing the amount of casework we could handle.

“In both cases this would mean a reduction in the number of people we were able to help. So, in that event, it is likely we would have to turn some people away. We are the only source of free, independent advice in the town.”

Using Office of National Statistics hourly rates, Citizens Advice estimate their volunteer contrubution to be £234,000 for the last year in Leighton Buzzard.

He said: “We currently have a team of 45 volunteers who usually work for two half-days per week. We have a paid team of six part-time staff including two specialist money advisers who undertake casework for clients who are in multiple debt and need a lot of ongoing help to negotiate with their creditors.

“We also have partnerships with family law and criminal solicitors who can see our clients for a free one-off session.

“Some people think we are part of the government but we’re not. Although we are part of the national Citizens Advice service, who provide who with our information database, we are an independent charity responsible for raising the funds we need to run the local service.

They saw 2,880 clients in 2011/12 and that figure is now likely to be 3,500 by the end of 2016-17. Mr Wood said he was seeing indications that number of visitors was starting to rise again having plateaued in the last couple of years.

The branch had reserves of £113,378 in 2013/2014 (when its income was £148,128) but those reserves are forecast to be cut to £97,625 by the end of 2016/17 (with a projected income of £105,167).

A spokesman for Central Beds Council said: “We recognise the valuable service provided by Citizens Advice, in particular to some of our most vulnerable residents. We work very closely together to ensure our residents can access the high-quality, impartial information and advice that Citizens Advice provides.

“Despite budget pressures, funding from the council to the three Citizens Advice organisations that operate in Central Bedfordshire has been maintained at its current level for the last five years and is worth nearly £250,000 per annum. In addition, we have provided extra funding for each of the last three years to enable Citizens Advice to meet the increase in demand brought about by changes to Welfare Reform.”

“We would encourage people to have their say on the council’s proposed budget for 2017 in our consultation which runs until 30 January.”

> Fundraising concert Music From The Movies in aid of Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade takes place on Saturday, February 25 at 7.30pm (doors open 7pm) at All Saints Church, Leighton Buzzard. It features the Leighton-Linslade Gala Orchestra and Heath Band.

Tickets are £12 (including drink on arrival), under 16s free.

More details from www.leightonlinsladecab.org.uk or call 01525 372225.