Citizen’s Advice is helping struggling High Peak residents

The Buxton CAB offices
The Buxton CAB offices

Would you know who to turn to if you needed help with getting a blue badge, could not afford dental treatment or had problems with your benefits?

For nearly a century the Derbyshire Districts Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has been helping people in the High Peak get answers.

Ghazala Darr

Ghazala Darr

With the impending roll out of Universal Credit in the autumn, the charity knows this could be a worrying time for people so the Advertiser paid a visit to shine a light on the good work they do.

In the High Peak, the figures for the last financial year show a total of £3,991,740 Debt Managed, which equates into 3,354 individual debt issues and alongside that there were income gains for clients worth £4,775,725.

Louise Lee, money advice manager for the charity, said: “Debt is becoming more complex and we are helping people more and people with more issues.

“Previously a person in debt would come in needing help for one or two problems but the average cases a client comes in with now is seven different debt issues.

Louise Lee

Louise Lee

“We have seen a change in the type of debt people are in, what used to be credit card debt is now people struggling to pay for the essentials and we do more work with High Peak Foodbank as people struggle to make ends meet.

“One of the biggest problems for our clients is council tax payment arrears, although we do have a good relationship with High Peak Borough Council.

“Being in debt is scary and people miss payments and stop opening their post, and problems escalate. It normally takes a crisis point before people seek help but it is never too late to come to us.”

For Louise she is very concerned about the roll-out of Universal Credit, the new benefit for people of working age on a low income which is administered by the Department for Work and Pensions. It is a single monthly payment which will eventually replace: Income Support; Income Related Job Seeker’s Allowance; Income Related Employment Support Allowance; Housing Benefit; ​Working Tax Credit/Child Tax Credit. It will be paid in one lump sum and access to people’s accounts will only be done through a new digital system.

She said: “It’s already been rolled out in other areas such as Amber Valley and Erewash and we know people are struggling so we want everyone who may be affected to not worry, we are here and we can help.”

For those who can’t get into the office in Spring Gardens there is also an Outreach Programme. Sally Wilson has been with CAB since 2003 and as an Outreach Advisor is part of one of the biggest outreach programmes in the country, which ensures the services are out in the community where people need them the most.

She said: “This is a very rewarding and humbling job as you know the work you are doing makes a difference to people’s lives. You don’t have to go it alone, we are here.”

Sally is a regular face at Elmwood Medical Centre, Stewart Medical Centre and Fairfield Sure Start Centre, and says people come to her for a variety of reasons.

She said: “Everyone is human and some times people just need help, they don’t understand the system and need answers so we are here to empower people.”

Ghazala Darr, an advice session supervisor for CAB, says the great work which has been done every day since October 1939 is down to a wonderful team of dedicated volunteers.

She said: “We have a team of volunteers who give up their time to help others and without the service we offer couldn’t continue. We are a charity and rely on funding and goodwill to continue.

“Over time the demands on our services have changed and people’s issues are becoming more difficult.

“We are a very busy service and we offer drop-in sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10am to 4pm, and Wednesdays, 10am to 12pm, which are always well used.

“I am worried that when Universal Credit rolls out we will have more people putting demand on the services as they struggle to cope.

“For some people they have never had to budget - their housing benefit got paid straight to their landlord and they never saw it - but now it will be in the bank accounts and for some I worry they will not be able to keep that money aside for rent and that will lead to more debt problems.”