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Debt advice workload jumps by 40 per cent
THE number of people helped with financial issues like debt by Rose Hill and Donnington Advice Centre has rocketed by 40 per cent in two years.
Centre bosses said major benefit reforms such as the controversial “bedroom tax” (see panel) had led to the increase.
The service provides confidential and free advice on issues like debt, budgeting, state benefits and mortgage payments.
The number of people helped rose from 1,489 from April 2010 and 2011 to 1,619 the following year and 2,089 people the year after.
Carole Roberts, director of the Ashhurst Way centre, said: “The rise is because of the changes to the benefit system, particularly bedroom tax and benefit caps. There is increased debt.”
She said payday loan companies were also to blame as people do not realise what they are signing up to.
Mrs Roberts added: “We give fair representation in evictions, bankrupcy, employment and support allowance tribunals. So far we haven’t lost a case.
“We prove that the system is wrong and the judges listen to us.”
Centre staff have represented over 100 appeal cases this year.
They have also managed an increased number of debt release orders, which is similar to bankruptcy and can be issued when the person has no assets such as a house or car.
The orders managed by the centre have increased from 48 in 2011/12 to 130 the following year.
The amount of debt it helped get written off rocketed from £71,102 in 2011/12 to £622,894 the following year.
Mrs Roberts added: “The service is very important.
“We get lots and lots of people who say they don’t know what they would have done.
“We are not a picture box charity. We actually deal with people who have bad times.
“Everybody has bad times. People should realise it could happen to them.
“They could lose a husband, wife or father.
“They could be made redundant from work.
“Everybody needs help now. It could happen to anybody and when it does it is not nice.”
The centre will move into the estate’s new £3m community centre, which is expected to open in 2015.
Mrs Roberts said: “We are looking forward to it because it will be somewhere where people will be able to come and not just see us. It will be much better.”
The Boyce family, from Iffley, say the centre was a “godsend” when they had problems with their benefits.
Staff helped the family ensure they got the benefits they were entitled to.
Parents Tom and Teresa Boyce, of Bears Hedge, have to support their children Rebecca, 13, Lillie, 12, and Jamie, four, through child tax credits, working tax credits and employment support allowance.
Mr Boyce, who stopped working because of an employment dispute, said: “It is such an essential service.
“I don’t know what we would do without them. They are a godsend.
“Trying to do it alone you don’t seem to get anywhere.
“You have got the backing of them writing letters for you.
“They understand the letters that come through, which are very difficult to understand.
“They are fantastic, very helpful, very friendly and they don’t judge.
“They do their best for you. They get what you are entitled to. I couldn’t thank them enough for what they do.”
The centre has five part time staff and about 12 volunteers plus a board of six trustees, who are also volunteers.
Volunteer Sheila Cudip, from Iffley, said: “It is good volunteering here.
“You learn a lot about people who are in trouble and need a lot of help and that is what they get here.
“The advisors who work here have got time for everyone who comes in.
“I should think it is essential because lots of people are now having difficulties and need help. The numbers have grown dramatically in this last year.”
If you need advice call the centre on 01865 438634.