Advice on debt is sought by record numbers

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The Independent Online
THE RECESSION prompted record numbers to seek help from Citizens Advice Bureaux last year as they attempted to find a way out of their financial difficulties, a report shows today.

Debt-related problems caused the greatest concern, giving rise to 1.78 million inquiries and amounting to the largest category for the first time in a decade.

Home-owners faced with repossession, the self-employed worried at the prospect of business failure, and those with no option but insolvency were all groups showing an increase.

However, increased financial pressure on local authorities has resulted in grant increases below the rate of inflation to some branches, particularly in London, forcing some to close. In general, though, bureaux have suffered less than other voluntary organisations, with funding increasing by an average of 14 per cent.

The 1,400 offices in England, Wales and Northern Ireland dealt with more than 7.6 million inquiries during the last financial year, a 7.7 per cent rise on the previous year. The complexity of the social security system, together with delays in payment and increased reliance on benefits meant that these problems prompted more than 1.7 million inquiries.

Taking the Strain, the annual report of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, also highlighted the fact that job losses and other employment matters led to 857,000 inquiries: 773,000 were about housing, nearly 700,000 about family and personal matters, 500,000 about legal issues, and 383,000 about tax. A further 900,000 covered a variety of other issues.

Stuart Errington, chairman of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, warned that the outlook was gloomy. 'The extension of capping arrangements and the tightness of the council tax regime will make it difficult to sustain current grant levels.

'We welcome clearer standards for public services. But I am bound to question whether the Citizen's Charter can be an effective weapon for consumers unless more resources are allocated to services such as ours.'