USERS of Citizens Advice West Berkshire (CAWB) have spoken out in support of the service amid proposals to cut funding by 66 per cent.
Earlier this month, CAWB chief executive Jan Rothwell admitted the service, seen by many as vital, could be forced to close down if West Berkshire Council carries out its plans to reduce its grant funding from £120,000 to just £40,000.
The public consultation on the proposed cuts is due to finish next week.
And in a show of support for the service, some clients have spoken out about the council’s proposals, explaining just how the loss of CAWB would affect them.
Paul Teixeira, a self-employed taxi driver from Newbury, has used the service a number of times over the last few years.
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, he said: “I have dyslexia.
“I get a lot of paperwork that I need help with.
“Some of it can be done by family and friends, but some of it is quite confidential, plus they’re not trained in that sort of thing.
“It’s important that I’ve got somewhere to turn to that offers confidential and, most importantly, independent help.
“To me they are an absolutely vital service – they make sure you aren’t bullied by organisations or companies, and a lot of people wouldn’t know where to turn if they weren’t there.
“I think it would be a massive loss.
“I’d either have to open up everything to someone – friends or family – or go to a solicitor and I just can’t afford that.”
Another local client, Philip Hawkins, had recently used the service on behalf of a friend who had accrued a significant amount of debt.
“He didn’t know where to turn or what to do,” he said of his friend.
“We talked, but we didn’t know what the next step should be or how he could even begin to pay off the debt.
“The only other option would be to see a solicitor, but my friend clearly can’t afford that.
“The advice from the CAWB was invaluable.
“I honestly feel, and I don’t say this lightly, that the advice was a lifeline.
“They gave advice that firstly, I would trust, and secondly, was free.”
West Berkshire Council, which provides the majority of funding to the CAWB, has proposed the two-third funding cut as part of a cost-saving drive to save £10m next year.
The council has offered the charity a small space in its Market Street offices to help in its cost-saving.
In December, CAWB chief executive Jan Rothwell explained how the charity was still reeling from previous funding reductions, having had to make a number of redundancies and significantly reduce its office size.
And with the charity’s workload expected to increase in the coming months as Universal Credit is rolled out in West Berkshire, Mrs Rothwell said any further funding cuts would make it impossible to continue.
She told the NWN last month: “It is simply not viable to run a service helping thousands of local vulnerable people for £40,000 a year, especially at a time when Universal Credit will be extended to our area, and national figures show that 28 per cent of claimants will need our help.
“At the current year’s level of funding of £120,000, we are depleting our reserves by £95,000 this year in order to maintain our services to clients.”
To have your say visit http://info.westberks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=28602 before Wednesday, January 10.