Advice charity facing its own funding crisis

A CHARITY that provides legal and financial advice to thousands of people in Lowestoft is facing a cash crisis of its own.

The North East Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau (NESCAB) offers free information and guidance to people across Waveney on a variety of issues, including debt problems, welfare benefits, employment rights and housing.

But the charity received a major blow this week with news that its government funding is to be slashed by 54pc – at a time when it has witnessed an 'unprecedented demand' for its services.

Trustees met on Monday to discuss the impact of the funding cut by the Legal Services Commission, which is reducing its support to by nearly �61,000.

They are desperate to keep any cutbacks to a minimum amid expectations their workload will increase further as a result of the public sector financial review, the benefits shake-up and the likely fall out in the jobs market.

Martin Newson, a trustee of NESCAB, said: 'With such a big cut in funding we are unfortunately having to look at reducing the hours that we operate, although we want to do all we can to keep our staffing at its current level.

'This does all come at a very bad time because we're seeing an unprecedented demand for our services.

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'The changes brought about by the coalition government, particularly those affecting benefits, are a big concern for many people.

'Our staff are working flat out dealing with inquiries.'

NESCAB currently provides advice five days a week at its main bureau in Gordon Road, Lowestoft. It also runs offices at Beccles three days a week, at Bungay two days a week, and outreach services at Halesworth and Kessingland. The charity has a dozen paid staff and a team of 40 trained volunteers who offer free, independent, confidential and impartial advice.

In the past year, they handled 21,000 inquiries – up more than 40pc on the previous 12 months – with most of these relating to debt problems (40pc), welfare benefits (25pc), employment (7pc and housing (7pc).

Mr Newson said trustees had asked the charity's staff for their ideas on how savings could be made without damaging the services.

But there are concerns that its financial situation might become even more difficult, because NESCAB is yet to hear how much grant aid it will receive from Waveney District Council and Suffolk County Council – both of which face major budget cuts.

'We are hopeful that local people or businesses might see how vital a service we provide and be able to help us,' Mr Newson said.

'We'd be grateful for any financial support, particularly from people or organisations we have supported or advised in the past.'

n You can donate to NESCAB by sending cheques made payable to 'North East Suffolk CAB' to the Lowestoft bureau, or by calling in to your nearest office which will have a collection box in the reception area.