North Norfolk Citizens’ Advice Bureau funding plea

A vital advice service that is easing the debt problems of hundreds of people across North Norfolk is looking for help to solve a funding crisis of its own.

And it is calling on grateful customers to send letters of thanks to bolster its bids for grant money to keep the services alive.

The North Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau based at North Walsham has lost �56,000 of funding over the year, meaning it can deal with fewer cases.

It is also close to the end of a five-year �387,000 Lottery award which has paid for a specialist debt worker - who has managed to get �500,000 worth of debts written off over the past year.

Bureau chief officer Fiona Hunter said the loss of two or three staff among its 10-strong advice staff was a 'big chunk' which had seen the number of issues dealt with drop from 23,000 to less than 20,000 this year and people were having to wait longer to see specialist staff.

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Funding was getting harder and harder, with cuts from the county council and government - and things were likely to get worse.

'It is the toughest it has been for a while for the bureau. It we cannot get it, a lot of the service will close,' she warned bluntly.

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The bureau would go back to the Lottery but there was a lot of competition, and council grant funds were also tightening.

People who had received help from the service could however help by voicing their praise in a letter.

'If people have used the service and found it helpful it would be great if they sent in letters to us which we can use to back our applications,' she added.

The cuts in funding and staff came at a time when more and more people were seeking help.

'We are seeing a broader range of the population as people get into debt through no fault of their own as they lose their jobs or get a cut in hours, which can turn affordable credit into unaffordable debt,' said Mrs Hunter.

Debt (27 per cent) and benefits (23pc) made up half the bureau's workload, with employment issues making up another 15pc.

'People are rung up by credit card and catalogue companies and don't pay their council tax bill - which can escalate to court and bailiffs,' she explained.

The bureau's debt worker had been able to deal with �500,000 of debts without the need, and cost, of going to bankruptcy, she added.

Changes to welfare benefits had also increased demand - with a growing number of appeals on behalf of people whose benefits were cut after assessments - with the mentally ill particularly badly affected.

A report to the bureau's annual meeting gave examples:

?a woman whose who was judged fit for work despite acute anxiety and agoraphobia which made it almost impossible for her to leave home who is being helped with an appeal

?a severely mentally ill man with a history of self harm who was found fit for work and lost his disability benefit - until it was overturned on appeal ?a depressed and suicidal man with a disabled wife suffering daily harassment from creditors for a �21,000 debt before help which he said transformed his life.

The bureau also has a centre at Fakenham and does outreach work around the district. About 4,500 cases comes from North Walsham, nearly 2,000 from Cromer and 700 from Stalham.

Call the advice line on 08444 111 444 or visit

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