Campaigners were right

With regard to your article headlined '˜CAB chief calls for backing of Berwick Service' (Berwick Advertiser, April 26), this is unheard of.

Friday, 4th May 2018, 09:00 am
Updated Thursday, 3rd May 2018, 09:50 am

Until September 30, 2017, the CAB service in Berwick operated five days a week – three mornings face-to-face drop-in at Tweed Street, appointments every day and direct access by phone to the Berwick office.

The service was always working to capacity and beyond. Demand exceeded supply.

All the staff were flexible enough to cope with emergencies, such as warrants for eviction and potential homelessness.

The restructuring that took place in 2017 destroyed a team of paid staff and volunteers devoted to Berwick and the people of Berwick.

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Five paid workers, all dedicated and experienced, were made redundant, including the benefit specialist who provided training for all and representation for clients at benefit tribunals.

The new chief executive states that “they were unwilling or unable to work elsewhere to carry out their duties”. Family commitments and travelling time made work in Morpeth an unrealistic option.

I believe that the seven volunteers who resigned did so because they felt the service was moving in the wrong direction, concentrating too much on phone and online help. They felt they would no longer be able to offer the in-depth, continuing advice they believed many of their clients needed.

Since leaving CAB ,the volunteers and some of the former paid workers have joined together to set up Berwick Welfare Rights +.

This is now a registered charity and is seeking support and funding to try to make good the biggest hole we felt was left by the restructuring of CAB, the lack of face-to-face intensive help with benefits, up to and including representation at tribunal.

We see this as a complementary service to the broad range of advice offered by Citizens Advice Northumberland and would hope in the future to co-operate with Citizens Advice for the benefit of all who need help.

If fewer clients are accessing the CAB now, it would seem we were right to campaign to save the service as it was.

Pam Vassie

Berwick Welfare Rights +