A hefty £2.59 million of debt has been managed by Mid & East Antrim Citizens’ Advice Bureau in just six months, it has been revealed.
The revelation was contained in performance statistics for the bureau from April to September this year, which were presented to a Mid and East Antrim Council committee last week as part of a progress report for elected members on the delivery of advice services across the borough.
Members were reminded that the bureau is under a service level agreement with Council to provide advice services for the borough at a cost to ratepayers of £220,000 per year.
The agreement with the local authority stipulates that the method of advice provision must benefit citizens of the borough through face-to-face appointments, telephone/email advice, outreach provision, home visitation and evening/weekend provision.
Community Planning Committee members heard from their Director of Organisation Development & Community Planning, Karen Hargan, that benefits were “the number one” issue for the bureau and revealed that £1.25 million of additional benefits had been claimed for clients as a result of Mid & East Antrim CAB assistance.
Broken down, this comprised £251,789 in Housing Benefit, £301,372 Disability Benefit/Attendance Allowance, £152,394 Pension Credit/Income Support, £133,787 ESA, £323,382 Tax Credits, and £97,137 in relation to other benefits.
In her report to the committee, Ms Hargan informed members that the Department of Social Development had developed a new strategy for Advice Services in Northern Ireland which was awaiting Ministerial sign-off.
Once that process was concluded, the current service level agreement with Mid & East Antrim CAB would be reviewed in line with the Stragegy, she stated.
Committee Chairman Councillor Paul Maguire commented: “It’s clearly an important service for citizens of the borough”.
Mid & East Antrim Citizens’ Advice operates at three locations across the borough - Carrickfergus, Larne and n Ballymena.
All are contactable on one telephone number: 028 96001333.