Council extends funding for Citizens Advice as crisis support hits record levels

County Hall, Northallerton.

A local authority looks set to pump £660,000 into supporting charity Citizens Advice as the service revealed more people are seeking its one-to-one than at any point during the pandemic.

Leading North Yorkshire County councillors will on Friday consider extending funding to Citizens Advice branches across the county for the next two years to enable it to continue work with more than 200 partners to provide advice and information covering a spectrum of topics including debt, housing, unemployment, benefits, and bankruptcy.

The move comes as the charity warned crisis support – including referrals to food banks and advice on managing energy debts – was at the highest level on record.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, described cost-of-living pressures as being “at boiling point”.

She said: “April’s price hikes haven’t yet hit and already people are turning to our services in record numbers.

“Frontline advisers are hearing desperate stories of families living in just one room to keep warm, people turning off their fridges to save money and others relying on hot water bottles instead of heating due to fears about mounting bills.

“Our data has reached red alert levels. If the government doesn’t act soon and bring forward a package of support for those on the lowest incomes, many more households will be pushed beyond breaking point.”

An officer’s report to the meeting highlights that while all the district and borough councils provide funding or premises to the charity, the county authority is the charity’s major funder.

It states while those Citizens Advice support are five times more likely to be on low incomes, have mental health problems and insecure employment since 2010, the majority of North Yorkshire’s advice charities have closed.

The report states Citizens Advice is the only organisation “providing free information and advice at this level and at a time when it’s badly needed”.

The report adds: “It is forward thinking, innovative and proactive in relation to the services it provides, paying due regard to patterns and trends presented by customers. During the pandemic, it has successfully created and applied
different ways of working in order to ensure service delivery was uninterrupted.”

Councillor Michael Harrison, the council’s health and adult services executive member, said the services the charity provided to people when they needed it, on high streets and also online, were needed more than ever and were “absolutely vital”.

He said while some people might be surprised to discover Citizens Advice was not directly funded by the government, the authority was more than happy to continue part finance the organisation.

Coun Harrison added: “We are absolutely convinced that people do get what they need from Citizens Advice. The range of matters that they help people with is almost endless and if Citizens Advice wasn’t there where would these people go? They are well-known and well trusted by residents and the council.”