Fife’s leading advice and rights agency is under ever-increasing pressure because of welfare reforms, its chief executive has revealed.
Citizens Advice and Rights Fife (CARF) has become so busy, that in some parts of the Kingdom there are no face-to-face appointments to be had for several weeks.
And Norma Phillpot warned that, as demand soars, her organisation is facing a further cut in its core funding next year.
Her comments came as parent body Citizens Advice Scotland revealed that members are seeing a huge rise in the number of people coming to them for advice, particularly regarding concerns relating to the welfare and benefits system. Said Norma: ‘’Our welfare benefits enquiries are up by 15% and this now represents 40% of all issues we deal with - more than half of these issues raised relate to Disability Living Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance. We are concerned with the impact of the welfare reform changes. We find many clients are in great distress and confusion and helping and advising them is stretching our resources.’’
Now Glenrothes and Central Fife MP Lindsay Roy is urging the Government to look again at the changes.
He said: “Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran has described the rise in people seeking help as a disturbing reflection of how tough things really are for so many families and that certainly appears to be the case in Fife.
“CARF do an enormous amount of fantastic work and I cannot praise the staff and volunteers highly enough, they are clearly under immense pressure.
“No-one would argue that the welfare benefits system was complicated and needed to be looked at, but it cannot be right that the changes are leading to many more worried people coming to agencies such as CARF for advice.
“Something is wrong and the Government must review the reforms as a matter of urgency.’’
Continued Norma, “There are a number of people coming to us with very serious debt problems and issues - often a sudden change of circumstances such as loss of a job or illness in the family is enough to create major financial difficulties.
“Our money advice provision has been altered to cope with the complexities and demands on our advisers and we always prioritise emergencies.
“We constantly try to drive down waiting times, but unfortunately demand outstrips available appointments for face-to face specialist interviews in some parts of Fife.”
People are encouraged to use CARF’s money advice telephone service (0845 1400 094) as a first point of contact and help is also available via the website www.carfweb.org which has lots of helpful information, including initial advice and support plus access to self help tools.
People can also go to CARF offices to be seen in person and the organisation also has a number of projects giving specific help - call 0845 1400 095 to find out more.
Concluded Norma, “All of this increased workload comes in the face of a further 5% cut in our core funding from the Council in 2012/11 and we are currently looking at ways on how best to deliver the service in the future.”
Mr Roy added: “I appreciate that the council is under enormous financial pressure, but it is quite frankly very worrying that CARF’s budget is being reduced at a time when it is clear that more, not less, support is needed.”
Glenrothes MSP Tricia Marwick also commented: “Citizens Advice and Rights Fife (CARF) and their trained staff and volunteers provide a valuable service to residents in Glenrothes.
“I am worried that CARF’s resources are stretched due to the number of people contacting them about changes to the benefits system. I know that many town residents have been adversely affected by these changes, particularly to the Employment Support Allowance and the Disability Living Allowance.
“While this is primarily a matter for the UK Parliament at Westminster, I will continue to provide what assistance I can to my constituents. As the constituency MSP for Glenrothes, I have enjoyed an excellent relationship with CARF and they have my full support.”