THE Citizens Advice Bureau in Larne has brought an incredible £1m in unclaimed benefits into the borough in the past year, it has been revealed.
The charity, which in recent years has had to contend with understaffing and sub-standard facilities, is now in the midst of a major resurgence.
Having received a funding boost from the Department for Social Development, the bureau is able to offer a full-time service for the first time and provides a regular outreach service in local estates and villages.
Refurbishment of the Larne Council-owned premises at Park Lodge in Smiley Park, coupled with more volunteers, has meant that 2012 is shaping up to be one of the best.
CAB attributes its recent success to the greater accessibility of the service and the development and experience of its workforce of eight volunteers and five paid staff.
In a report to Larne Council – another major funder – for October, 2011 to March, 2012 the charity stated that its 12-month benefits clawback was double the amount it had hoped to realise in two years.
“This is a testament to the hard work being carried out by staff and volunteers in maximising income for those with disabilities, low incomes and those suffering fuel poverty,” the report added.
The bureau thanked the council for the improvements carried out to the building, including the installation of gas heating and new windows. “This has not only improved the working conditions for the staff and volunteers, but will also lead to a reduction in heating costs,” CAB added.
The CAB management committee has now redesigned the bureau’s office to improve confidentiality. The main office is now used solely for administration and triage purposes, providing a waiting area for clients to sit before appointments. Eight extra computers - donated by the Labour Relations Agency - have also been set up to provide all staff and volunteers access to a work station.
At the latest meeting of the development committee at Smile Buildings, elected representatives praised CAB for its “outstanding” achievement in drawing down a total of £1,000,100 in the past year.
Councillor Drew Niblock said: “Having volunteered for CAB, I can appreciate what these figures mean. It is a fantastic achievement and I want to congratulate the staff and volunteers.
“I also want to commend council staff for the refurbishment of the building, which has helped CAB conduct its business in a better way.”
Alderman Roy Beggs said: “This is the best CAB report that has ever come before this council, and it more than justifies the investment we have made to improve the conditions for those working for the charity in Larne.
“We should formally congratulate the manager, staff and volunteers for drawing down this money at a time when people are suffering such financial hardship. The work of CAB is more important than it has ever been and I wish them equal success in the years ahead.”