Sunderland Citizens Advice budget slashed by £200,000

Denise Irving, deputy manager of Citizens Advice Sunderland.
Denise Irving, deputy manager of Citizens Advice Sunderland.
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THOUSANDS of Wearsiders in desperate need of help could be left stranded after a major funding crisis at a charity.

Sunderland’s Citizens Advice Bureau has lost £200,000 – half its annual funding.

And today bosses at the organisation told the Echo they may no longer be able to support some of the city’s poorest residents.

Should the charity be forced to close it would mean:

•No more free legal advice for those unable to pay for a solicitor.

•No more free advice on what benefit entitlements are available.

•Limited support for those facing crippling debts.

•Free advice on housing issues severely affected.

The organisation, which takes up to 2,000 calls a month, even fears it may have to turn off the telephone helpline.

Denise Irving, deputy manager for Citizens Advice Sunderland, said: “I’ve no idea where these people are going to go if they can’t call us.”

Last year, the charity employed 30 people at its base in Concord, Washington but now there are just 17.

“And that will change again,” warns Ms Irving.

The organisation receives no money from Sunderland City Council and has always had to aggressively fund-raise in order to carry on providing a service for the thousands who contact the them every month.

But with Government cuts biting hard, streams of funding have quickly dried up and past avenues for cash been closed off.

Three years ago, the charity received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. But this cash is now running out and, from this April, the prospects of continuing the service at its current level look bleak.

Ms Irving added: “All we would be able to provide from April onwards would be a minimum amount of advice on housing.

“We wouldn’t be able to advise on any benefit issues. This is a huge thing this year with all the different changes that are coming into effect. It is going to have an impact on so many different people.”

Just days ago, the Government faced criticism over its plans to introduce a one per cent cap on annual rises in working-age benefits and some tax credits in a bid the reduce the deficit.

With further changes set to come into force later this year, Ms Irving believes more people than ever could be in need of the services they offer.

“The need for what we provide is greater than ever and it’s only going to get worse,” added Ms Irving.

The service has been based in Concord since 2006 but covers the whole of Sunderland.

Ms Irving said: “There is really nobody else who does what we do.

“We manage to get a lot of debt written off for our clients, we challenge unfair benefit decisions and we check that people are claiming everything they can.

“The service provides a telephone advice service each weekday, between 9am and 4.30pm.

“This now faces being closed down unless funding can be found.”

Twitter: @sunderlandecho