Popped in to see Laura Thomas, the brilliant Chief Exec of Citizens Advice Dudley Borough the other day.
Laura and her team of staff and volunteers helped 17,000 people across the Borough last year addressing 43,000 advice issues. Their work directly prevented 600 people losing their homes and they brought a huge amount of money into Dudley last year, helping local people claim £15 million in benefits they were entitled to. They dealt with £7million in client debt and supported people with many issues such as housing, welfare, consumer, relationship and employment problems when local people had nowhere else to turn.
At the moment the team is spread out over four offices, some of which are completely unsuitable for disabled people. People have to queue for hours for an appointment and some are turned away because there just isn’t the capacity to see everyone. Staff can only meet the public on three days.
On top of that, Citizens Advice had its budgets cut, just like lots of other organisations. It is scandal that an organisation helping the poorest people in Dudley is paying the price for a banking crisis caused by the wealthiest people in London.
Other Citizens Advice organisations across the West Midlands only have one building for the whole area. Even a huge city like Birmingham and Coventry only has one.
In the near future, Citizens Advice Dudley Borough will be opening a new improved office in Dudley town centre. There will be a new contact assessment centre with 20 advisers on the phones so most straight forward enquiries can be dealt with over the phone instead of needing a longer face-to-face meeting.
There will be ten interview rooms, where at full capacity, they will be able to see 150 people face to face per week, full disabled access, an information hub to support members of the public to get their answers online, a dedicated email and webchat facility for a further 10 advisors, a crisis telephone for people who can’t afford to use their phone to contact the assessment centre.
People with more complex support needs will be able to see a caseworker in various identified local community venues across the Borough.
When the organisation is at full capacity, they will be able to be open five days a week instead of the three days at present. In future, they might even be able to open at evenings and the weekend.
I think these changes will improve the service local people need. They will be able to help more people and you’ll be able to get help over the phone or online which should be much easier and more convenient for most people. Those that can’t will still be able to see someone for a longer, more detailed face to face advice session at the new service.