Fighting poverty theme at 2017 AGM
Shirley explained : “Helping clients through the various projects and services of Citizens Advice Westminster is crucial in helping to fight and overcome poverty.The impact changing benefits legislation has had on local people and families has been dire.
“Making our services accessible has been a priority with increased access avenues, such as the new Adviceline. As well as the general advice service, we also provide tailored services which meet the needs of the more vulnerable people in the community.This includes families with children under five and those with mental health problems and the Advice on Prescription project. We also provided support for families affected by the tragic Grenfell fire at the Grenfell information centre.”
Summarising the highlights of the annual report, the Chief Executive said that 21,000 enquiries had been dealt with, among which the top five enquiries were benefits, housing, debt, charitable support and employment. Housing issues had increased dramatically over the last year, and the organisation will focus on gathering evidence for campaigns work as new legislation comes into force which may adversely affect local residents.
The last year had seen a total of £3.7 million in financial outcomes for clients, which is direct income to help local families pay their bills, clear rent arrears, and be able to have enough money for food.The Chief Executive thanked the team for their hard work in achieving such a staggering amount for their clients.
Examples of some non-financial outcomes, include stopping bailiff action, preventing homelessness, and increasing people’s knowledge and understanding of money management through the bureau’s financial capability work. The Chief Executive explained that the organisation works in partnership with other organisations and local MP’s and councillors to deliver these services. As a member of the Westminster Advice Forum, the organisation is also able to work with other local agencies.
Karen Buck, MP, patron of North Paddington Foodbank, thanked volunteers, trustees and staff of Citizens Advice Westminster for providing a relevant service to the local community. She said that nearly £40 billion had been taken out of the Social Security fund since 2010, and a direct consequence had been an increase in the number of people left homeless, as well as a rise in the numbers of people who have had to appeal decisions about their sickness and disability benefits in order to have them reinstated.
The North Westminster MP explained that those people who have advice and assistance in getting their benefit decisions appealed are more likely to succeed than those who have no help at all. She evidenced that there are many more people in the local community who have yet to access advice, but it is important they know that agencies like Citizens Advice Westminster are at hand to help them make representations to overturn benefits decisions.
The Chair welcomed the Right Worshipful, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Councillor Ian Adams. On behalf of the Council, the Lord Mayor expressed his thanks for the essential services provided by the bureau to the people of Westminster. He also presented certificates and a gift to a number of long serving employees: Sital Gohil, Patricia Aitzian, Sherill Milller, and Robin Dahlberg.