Charity issues

Derby’s re-established Citizens Advice Bureau – helping thousands of people across the City

2 years ago, Derby City Council cut the grants to local charities to zero. This left many organisations in the voluntary sector in a very precarious situation, including the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). At the time there was a lot of publicity about the fact that Derby was the only city in the UK without a CAB. Since then the service has been through a significant amount of re-shaping, redundancies, restructuring and ownership changes.

In 2016 the CAB was run by the Citizens Advice and Law Centre charity (CALC). It had income each year from many sources totalling £1m, and employed 40 staff together with many volunteers. It provided advice and legal services across a range of subjects. The aspect of the operation that was most visible to the public was the drop-in facility. This allowed any person, regardless of age, income, ethnicity, employment status etc to walk through the door, and seek advice. It was this that was funded by Derby City Council; it was this that was lost when the £200,000 grant was cut.

In late 2016, CALC contacted the South Derbyshire CAB with a view to merging. This finally took place on 1 September 2017, and is now formally known as Citizens Advice South Derbyshire and City. Originally, they continued to operate from the offices in Green Lane, at great expense. In 2018, the opportunity arose to partner with Direct Help and Advice (DHA) with the establishment of the Community Managed Library in Sinfin. This was completed in May 2018, and they moved to Sinfin, which is now their base for the City.

The change of location was given careful consideration. Most of the existing client base live in Normanton and Sinfin and would need to make a bus/car journey to get to the offices, regardless of location. A considerable number of people ( ~700 new contacts/week) access the CAB, initially, by phone. Also, being part of the library building meant that they would be in a natural community hub.

The range of services is as broad as one would expect from a CAB.

The main core is the General Advice Service covering:

  • Money & Debt
  • Housing & Homelessness
  • Energy
  • Family & Relationships
  • Consumer
  • Work

Other projects include:

  • DIG-IT – helping people with IT skills, access to computers (In Derby, Wednesdays – Sinfin Library)
  • GP Outreach Service – Advisors located in surgeries – currently only South Derbyshire, not Derby.
  • Living with A Long Term Health Condition Programme – a free 6-week course that can help a person to take more control of their health by learning new skills and strategies to manage their condition on a daily basis – currently only the County.
  • Money Advice Services

Overall the South Derbyshire CAB has less financial resources than the original Derby based CALC, however, they continue to look at innovative ways to work smarter so they can help more people. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people who try to contact them by phone, can’t get through as a result of the sheer weight of numbers of people needing help. Despite this. last year around 3800 people were helped in Derby, and 4000 in the County. The aspiration is to increase this total from 7800 to 12000 for the coming year.

Their task has become more complicated, and time-consuming, as:

  • More people are trying to access the service, not succeeding and so their problems compound
  • Other referral agencies ,who could take some pressure have disappeared in Derby, or have much reduced services.
  • Introduction of Universal Credit
  • Greater need to be IT literate.
  • Many advisors lost as CALC closed; many new people in the rigorous training process, gaining experience.

One of the many tasks of the Chief Executive Officer, David Symcox, is obtaining sustainable funding which does not leave them vulnerable to political decisions.  He has secured over 20 different sources of finance – some more substantial than others. When the local NHS body, the South Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group announced that it was cutting all voluntary sector grants then, for him, it wasn’t an issue. Over time, there will be other models of working with government bodies that provide more assured flow of funds through, for example, commissioned services.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in Derby is a significant presence providing the advice and help required of it, for whoever needs it. The demand is overwhelming which results in too many people not being seen – this is a concern to David Symcox but one which he sees as an important challenge to overcome.

Derby is no longer in that tragic state of being one of the few cities in the country without a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Full details of their services and contact details can be found on the Citizens Advice South Derbyshire and City website HERE.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s