LEEK Citizens’ Advice Bureau has reported a surge in the number of people in crisis – with 350 extra clients turning to the service for help in the last three months.
Now the organisation has issued an urgent appeal for fresh volunteers to cope with the rise.
Bureau bosses say most of the people calling at the CAB’s Bank House base in St Edward Street are seeking advice for housing related problems including the spare room subsidy, dubbed the ‘bedroom tax’.
During the past two weeks there has also been an increase in male clients under the age of 35 who are sick, unemployed or homeless.
News of the increase comes after a food bank opened in Leek for needy families, for which the CAB can issue vouchers.
Bureau manager Michelle Stonier said: “At the going rate we will be hundreds of new clients up from last year.
“The office is getting busier and busier.
“We seem to be getting two or three extra people every week.
“Also we are getting more calls for food vouchers.
“We are always looking for volunteers to help us.”
The total amount of client debt over the last year was recorded by the Leek bureau at £2,234,245, from which £1,158,534 was clawed back by staff.
During 2012/2013, staff dealt with 1,193 enquiries from 1,143 clients, on 4,342 ‘social policy issues’.
The client profile included 613 females and 530 males with an age range from 17 to 85-plus, the majority of whom were between 35 and 64.
From these, 53.64 per cent declared that they were disabled.
But chairman of the bureau’s trustees, Keith Hoptroff, said a big increase was now being seen from people of all ages.
He said: “The changes in the benefit welfare system have added to the workload.
“The number of disabled is high and it seems that a lot of people who are employed are struggling.
“People are sleeping rough at night and a lot are coming in for food vouchers.
“The volunteers are doing a great job, but we need more to help us meet the demand.” Staffordshire Moorlands MP Karen Bradley said: “I am very pleased to see that the Citizens’ Advice Bureau is continuing to offer such an efficient and valued service to its clients.
“In this transitional phase, it is no surprise that there will be lots of people wanting to take advantage of the free service offered by the CAB to find out how they are affected.
“I frequently encourage my constituents to make an appointment – but I must stress that no one will be made homeless as a result of the changes to housing benefit.
“There is money available to help those who are particularly vulnerable and the Government will continue to pay over 80 per cent of most claimants’ rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.
“I will be writing to Leek CAB to ask for further details about this issue.”
The Leek bureau was established in 1979 to provide free and impartial advice.
Since then, through the work of its board of trustees, staff and volunteers, it has constantly broadened the services available.
Today, it provides a wide range of comprehensive advice and information services ranging from simple enquiries, such as sorting out utility problems, to more specialist services dealing with welfare benefits, debt, homelessness and housing issues.
Mr Hoptroff added: “All the bureau’s services are offered free of charge on a basis which is impartial, non-judgemental and confidential.
“The bureau is run with four paid staff and at present 14 volunteers, which includes fully trained and trainee advisers and fully trained and trainee gateway assessors.
“Volunteers contributed approximately 12,000 hours of work during the last year.
“The estimated value of this help is £170,014, thus showing the value of commitment that volunteers bring to the service.
“Some of these volunteers have been with the bureau for a number of years and have been a great asset to the bureau and the clients.
“They share their expertise with the new volunteers who all receive structured training before they are expected to work on their own."
If you would like to know more details on becoming a volunteer contact Michelle at the bureau office or telephone 01538 373068.