County council plans to almost halve grant to Citizens Advice Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire County Council’s funding of citizens advice services in the county could be almost halved from April this year.

The council is proposing a reduction in its Grant Funding Agreement with Citizens Advice Lincolnshire from £616,135 in 2017-18 to £278,000 for 2018-19, plus an additional £53,000 to provide support in areas specifically around welfare reform and universal credit.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity which offers free, impartial and confidential advice to people on their rights and responsibilities.

There are branches in most major towns in the county.

The charity provides a core service in areas including housing and employment, debt, discrimination, relationships and family, law and rights and tax and education.

There is also what is termed an ‘Income Maximisation Service’ which helps people claim all of the benefits they are entitled to.

The county council is proposing continuing to provide grants for the core service, but not renew funding for the Income Maximisation Service, arguing that other organisations offer similar advice.

In a report to councillors, Executive Director for the Environment and Economy Richard Wills said that a review by the council had considered the benefits of both elements of the service.

He said: “This review identified that as a result of already existing specialist support available within communities from a wide range of both statutory, community and voluntary organisations there should be a shift in focus to concentrate on the broader and more inclusive range of advice being available to assist citizens through the core service including appropriate advice about their finances.

“The council has a number of competing demands on its budgets such that it must consider whether it is appropriate to fund core services and the more intense support provided by the income maximisation project.

“The core service already provides support to individuals to manage their finances of which benefits advice is a part. Other organisations working with particular groups of individuals such as older people or people with a disability provide advice on welfare benefits.”

Councillors on Lincolnshire County Council’s Public Protection and Communities Scrutiny Committee will consider the funding recommendations at a meeting in Lincoln on Tuesday, March 13.

Their recommendations will then be passed to Councillor Sue Woolley, who has responsibility for NHS Liaison and Community Engagement, who will make the final decision.

The county council previously cut funding for Citizens Advice services in Lincolnshire by 10%, a decision which was agreed in January 2017 and came into effect from April in the same year.

Laurence Waylett, service and quality manager at the Lincoln branch of Citizens Advice, said: “We will still be able to offer a service. At the moment, that income maximisation is focused towards helping vulnerable people to try and get benefits that help them with their disabilities and ill health.

“If that is not successful at the first point of claim, it can be challenged at tribunal.

“We’d still be able to offer that service through our general advisors. It’s just it would be a reduced service.

“It’s not ideal but we’ve had cuts before. We’ll find a way and carry on with what we’re left with.”