| Recipient Org: Description
Citizens Advice Braintree, Halstead and Witham is a local independent charity that gives holistic advice and as part of the national Citizens Advice network, we can access and benefit from extensive resources and expertise. Our service provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. We value diversity, promote equality and challenge discrimination. Our principles dictate that we are always independent and will act in the interests of our clients, without influence from any outside bodies. We are impartial and we do not judge our clients or make assumptions about them. Our service is open to everyone, and we treat everyone equally. We remain confidential and will not pass on anything a client tells us, or even the fact that they have visited us, without their permission. No-one has to pay for the advice we give; we are a free service and as such highly valuable for those who cannot afford paid-for legal advice. We currently provide a drop-in advice service in the towns of Braintree, Halstead and Witham where clients are first seen by a gateway assessor to ascertain the most effective course of action. Their problem may be easily solved at this stage and the client given the information and advice they need to deal with the issue themselves. When the problem is more serious or complex, clients will see a generalist adviser who will give additional support and advice to help them deal with the issues they present with, sometimes acting on the client's behalf with external agencies, such as the local authority housing department or HMRC. Complex debt issues usually require an appointment with one of our specialist money advice team, paid for through project funding. These advisers are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and undergo regular professional development activities and training. We also work closely with local solicitors, who will sometimes provide pro-bono services, when a legal issue is outside of our expertise, Many of our clients do not come to us until they have reached a crisis point, by which stage problems may be impacting on physical and mental health and general well-being. We are committed to providing information and advice to people before problems arise, through raising awareness of issues that could impact negatively on them, so we also give talks and presentations on a range of advice issues. We have been subject to a local authority funding cut of 4% during 2016/17, and are facing further cuts to our core funding in 2016/17 (10%) and 2017/18 (16%). Halstead town council no longer supports us financially so funding reductions are resulting in the need for significant changes within the organisation. Data has identified that the service we currently provide from our Halstead bureau is not meeting the needs of potential clients in the rural north of Braintree district, including those that have experienced substantial reductions in pubic transport services in 2016 due to cuts in local authority subsidies. Consequently, at the end of March 2017, we will be closing our Halstead bureau and moving operations to Braintree, thereby making more effective use of the premises we lease there. We have a strategy in place to develop a sustainable rural advice service, and as part of this we are expanding our telephone service, with the aim of making our advice more accessible, not only to rural communities but also as a response to the need to offer clients more ways to contact us, and at times when we do not offer, or they cannot attend, drop-in advice sessions. Five advice areas account for 99% of all problems clients bring to us: welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment and relationships. Often two or more issues are interrelated causing considerable stress and anxiety to clients. Almost 40% of inquiries we receive relate to welfare benefits and a further 20% are concerned with debt. Housing, employment and relationship issues each account for 13% of client enquiries. Although we are committed to improving access to our services we are also conscious that numerous people, through disability and/or long-term limiting conditions, are simply unable to physically come to us, or find claim forms too complex to profit from telephone advice. We know that many people experiencing these circumstances are often unaware of what they are entitled to, and eligible for, in terms of benefits that can make their lives easier by providing them with resources and services that are no longer supplied by social services. Families and carers also miss out on ‘passport’ benefits that enable them to claim for other, associated, benefits. Claim forms are highly complex and many people need help in understanding and completing them and providing the correct evidence needed to support applications. With cuts to local authority funding for social care it is important that individuals and family carers claim the welfare benefits they are entitled to, as extra funds can often buy resources and services that reduce the need for health or social care interventions. However it is this group that can be most disadvantaged in getting the help they need. Feedback from clients evidenced that many felt the extra money enabled them to stay in their own homes by accessing resources and services they had previously been unable to afford. We previously ran a two-year outreach project aimed at reaching the most vulnerable and/or isolated people in their own homes, many of whom were elderly. This was funded as a fixed-term, non repeatable award. The project focussed entirely on welfare benefits; generating £1.6 million in additional income for our clients over the two year period, an achievement of which we are very proud. This project identified the need for a broader advice service to be delivered in this way. Citizens Advice is ideally placed to address the wider problems that disadvantaged and sometimes isolated clients may face.