NEEDY residents are being denied help because of a massive increase in people turning to a vital advice service.
Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau has become so busy that the management board has banned staff from taking on new work so they can deal with their backlog of 1,500 active cases. The service has been suspended since last Monday. Service chiefs have warned that the situation will be much worse if funding cuts force it to axe 30 of its 50 staff.
Some 1,073 people asked for help from Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau in January, an average of 87 people per day. The figure has soared since last year, when the service saw 776 people in January, an average of 64 per day.
Bolton West MP Julie Hilling has raised the service’s plight in the House of Commons, warning that it made no sense to make “savage cuts”
to their already overstretched budget. She said: “Ministers should be supporting Bolton CAB and other similar services instead of slashing their funding and expecting them to do more with less.”
The centre runs a drop-in session from its Mawdsley Street base three days per week, giving people free advice about debt, benefits, housing, employment, immigration and community care.
It is estimated that the service saves the taxpayer £7 for every £1 spent on wages by helping to keep costly legal cases out of court.
Now Bolton CAB bosses fear that they will become even more overloaded if the Government’s Legal Aid Reform Bill becomes law.
Two thirds of the service’s annual budget, about £700,000, comes from the Government’s Legal Services Commission — money that will be cut if the bill is passed.
Barry Lyon, who has chaired the service for 20 years, said: “What the Government wants to do is barking mad. It’s absolutely crazy. We know it is going to happen because no one has provided an alternative.
We don’t even advertise our drop-in sessions — people hear about them through word of mouth. We suspended the sessions for two or three weeks reluctantly but this is a frightening glimpse into what could be the norm in a year. The most vulnerable people will lose out.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that the Government could no longer afford to spend £2.1 billion per year on one of the world’s most expensive legal aid systems.