Most people have heard of the Citizens Advice Bureau or CAB. Some of you may even have gone to them for help. Today I attended a session with a lady from the local CAB where she explained in depth what they do. I thought I knew what this was, but their work is much more wide ranging than I realised. All of their services are provided for free. The CAB really is an amazing and valuable organisation.
Identifying the issues of the day
As well as giving advice to members of the public, the CAB identifies the big issues, researches them and campaigns where there are problems. They can see patterns emerging from their dealings with clients. This puts them in an ideal and possibly unique position to understand the struggles people face. For example, they are currently campaigning to halt the roll out of Universal Credit. They have seen first hand the difficulties these changes are causing to already disadvantaged people. They also successfully put pressure on the government to place a cap on the rate of interest charged by pay day loan companies.
A shocking 72% of the CAB’s clientele live in poverty. They may be on low incomes, be unemployed, disabled or living with a long term health condition.
The biggest subject areas the CAB deals with are, in order:
Benefits and tax credits
As the lady explained today, these all impact on each other and people seeking advice often present with 3 or 4 different related problems. For example, they lose their job, they have no money and get into debt, then their relationships suffer.
The power of the volunteer
The CAB staff, who are mostly volunteers, do such a great job of helping people that 90% of their clients state they are satisfied; two out of three say their problems are resolved and 4 out of 5 say their lives have been improved by the experience.
The organisation struggles to keep up with the high demand for services. They always need more funding and constantly strive to recruit new volunteers. They have around 21,500 voluntary staff – that’s 77% of the total.
Those who volunteer with the CAB get benefits too. It can help people back into paid employment, give them experience in particular areas (for example, a lot of law students help at the CAB) and allow retired people a chance to use their skills and experience and continue with a challenge when their previous working life is over.
The CAB doesn’t just see people face to face. They have an excellent website for simple advice, as well as web chat and email services.
Helping with debt and money advice
The website has an excellent budgeting tool, as well as an eligibility calculator to help you work out which benefits you might be entitled to (this is down today but you can use this one if it isn’t working). You can take the first steps to working out what help you need and might not need to see an advisor at all. However, if you do require more specialist help you can make an appointment for a face to face meeting.
According to the CAB, one in 11 people in the UK have problem debt. Of these one in four have mental health issues. There is a connection.
Whatever your personal issues, the CAB can help you to find a way to manage your debt, and find a way out of the mire. For example, they can advise how to prioritise which debts to pay first, how to deal with your creditors and how to set up a debt management plan.
They can look at your income and ensure you are claiming all of the benefits you are entitled to, helping you to claim and deal with any issues that arise along the way. If you are facing eviction or rent arrears they can help you keep a roof over your head. They can also give employment advice if you are having problems at work or job seeking.
We are so lucky to have such a service. All given free of charge by people who don’t have to but want to help anyway. I am very pleased to know they are there, although I hope I never need their services. I think I am already planning my perfect retirement job!
Have you had any experience with the CAB?