Numbers of volunteers half for support charity

By Amy Hetherington   |   Reporter   |
Sunday 15th May 2022 6:00 am
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The Ockment Centre which houses Citizens Advice in Okehampton.

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Citizens Advice branches across West Devon have reported that they have lost 50% of their volunteers since the start of the pandemic.

West Devon’s support charity has said that it is in need of new volunteers as the cost of living crisis continues to eat away at people’s pockets.

Debbie Ely-Gillbanks, a Citizens Advice training officer for the West Devon, said: ‘The numbers who need our service is going up as the cost of living crisis continues and a lot of people need our help. I don’t see it getting any better for a while.’

The extra demand for advice comes as people are beginning to feel the pinch of rising energy bills and food prices but West Devon has seen volunteer numbers drop by half from 150 workers across the region pre-pandemic.

As a result of this drop, the branch is now advertising for voluntary advisors and trustees.

Ms Ely-Gillbanks added: ‘Unfortunately, we lost volunteers during lockdown for various reason and we need more volunteers. What we are really looking for are people who can offer benefit and money advice.’

The lack of enough financial advisors is becoming a growing concern for Citizens Advice workers as the West Devon region’s support group has reported seeing a 60% rise in the number of enquiries relating to debt, welfare rights and housing.

Some people in the region are now being forced to choose between electricity, a warm home and other essential goods.

One West Devon resident, who wished to remain anonymous, was forced to give up his full-time job for mental health reasons and was spending up to 93% of his Universal Credit allowance on energy bills.

He said he was sometimes topping up his pre-payment meter by £10 a day and instead chose to sit in his shed with a small fan heater on colder days because it was more economical.

He is now receiving help from Citizens Advice, but Catt Kinsey, team leader at the Okehampton centre, said the client’s experience ‘shows the impact of the current crisis.’

She added: ‘This client’s story is just one example of how devastating the increase in energy proces can be and we are asking for the government to do more to stop this.’

Currently, there are no official up-to-date statistics on the number of Citizens Advice clients in West Devon as the Torridge, North, Mid and West Devon Citizens Advice branch, which covers the Okehampton and Tavistock area, is in the process of collating data for town council reports. However, it will release figures once the reports are written.

Across the UK, 20,000 people volunteer at Citizens Advice which includes the 17,000 working in the charity’s advice service and 2,200 in the witness service, which provides information and support to witnesses in court cases. In 2020-21, Citizens Advice helped over 2.4 million people access the help they needed.

Citizens Advice is a network of independent charities across the UK that offers confidential advice on a wide range of issues including benefits, health and family matters.

The group’s volunteers play an important role across a wide range of services from giving advice and fundraising to acting as researchers or trustees to the different branches.

To volunteer at Citizens Advice visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/support-us/volunteering/

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