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Thatcham councillors continue backing Citizens Advice West Berkshire

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Citizens Advice helped 316 clients with a variety of problems over last 12 months

THATCHAM councillors have continued their funding of Citizens Advice West Berkshire (CAWB) as the organisation is set to face more pressure.

The council paid £4,134.72 in 2020/21 as part of an agreement to provide outreach services in the town.

Councillors heard of the impact the services had had when they met to renew the agreement at a meeting last week.

CAWB chief executive Sue Mackie said: “We are really grateful for the support you give us to deliver outreaches – they are well-used, and because they are in GP surgeries I think it makes a lot of difference to people.

“They know when we are there and how we are there.”

Mrs Mackie said that CAWB had not delivered face-to-face sessions since the first lockdown and had switched to using telephone, email and letter.

Nevertheless, it helped more than 316 clients from Thatcham in 2020/21, dealing with 1,472 new issues – more than 21 per cent of the total issues dealt with last year.

“We do get a good uptake from the residents of Thatcham, either through outreach or now by our telephone,” Mrs Mackie said.

The top issues in Thatcham were benefits (39 per cent), employment (20 per cent), housing and relationship and family (both 13 per cent), debt (11 per cent), and other (four per cent).

Mrs Mackie said that employment issues were now rising as a lot of people were being made redundant.

Councillors heard examples of how CAWB had helped people in Thatcham.

One person made redundant was struggling to get the company to pay money.

After CAWB’s intervention they received everything that was owed.

Another person who moved to Thatcham following domestic abuse had all their benefits stopped and were in rent arrears.

CAWB helped them claim all the relevant benefits, furniture and white goods and helped them avoid eviction.

When asked how much unmet need CAWB was left with, Mrs Mackie said: “Unfortunately I can’t measure unmet need. The only answer I have is if we were open 24/7 we would never reach the need.”

CAWB’s main funding comes from an agreement between the organisation, West Berkshire Council and Greenham Trust.

It costs about £250,000 to run the service.

In 2018 the district council cut the organisation’s funding from £120,000 to £80,000.

Asked about the current level of funding, Mrs Mackie said: “It would be nice to have slightly more funding.

“Looking at your grant, a cost of living uprise would be good.

“As you know, we had to shrink hugely and to be able to expand, we would need more money.

“We are now working at capacity at our offices and for the number of staff we have got because we had to make people redundant and we had a very close shave that time around.”
Saying that the town council should renew its funding agreement, Jeremy Cottham (Lib Dem, Thatcham North East) said: “I’m concerned that they have enough funding.

“It looks like they will have a lot more work and a lot more pressure.

“I think we should top it up another £500.

“I don’t think we can make a huge difference because we are a smaller player, but we can express our concern that it be better funded than it is.”

Richard Crumly (Con, Thatcham Central) said that the town council should stick to its arrangement.

He said: “There’s nothing to stop CAWB coming back for more money if they feel they desperately want it.

“That was not the message I got from the lady.

“She was not pitching for more funds – she was telling us, quite properly, what a splendid job they are doing.”

Disagreeing with Mr Crumly, Owen Jeffery (Lib Dem, Thatcham Central) said: “I agree that we should not simply wait for them to come back and ask for more.

“I think we have been given a fairly clear message that they can’t even estimate what the need is.

“To propose a fairly modest increase I think is absolutely in order.

“I would be prepared to go up to something like £5,000.

“It will not dent our budget but could make a significant difference.”

Councillors agreed to pay £4,200 and to hold further discussions with CAWB.

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