A RECORD 51,570 people contacted advice centres in Sheffield in the last year despite funding cuts across the board.
The seven per cent annual increase - amounting to 106,748 issues advised on - came as the city council, Legal Aid and government debt advice funding were all reduced.
At the same time, almost all paid staff at the city’s advice centres were working under threat of redundancy.
And volunteers were relied upon as never before. Some 383 worked an average of 2,216 free hours each week - the equivalent of 63 full time staff - and a 34 per cent increase on last year.
The 28 organisations - including council-funded advice centres and Citizen’s Advice bureaux - are members of an umbrella group called CLASSY (Community Legal Advice Services for South Yorkshire).
Chair Anne Hudson said some services had been cut, but it was to the credit of staff that others had been launched or developed.
She said: “The last year has been a time of relentless pressure and enforced change for the advice centres in Sheffield and the people they serve.
“In the current economic climate and with the cuts in public services locally and nationally, there is increasing demand for the free services offered by advice centres. Unfortunately resources have been reduced and many services have been affected.
“It is in this difficult environment that CLASSY has been working and it is to the credit of trustees and staff that so much has been achieved.”
Go to www.advicesheffield.org.uk
Case Study 1
Joanna Zukowska was working as a temp when her baby was born very prematurely, sparking a financial AND a family crisis.
In the early days baby Victoria was very ill and she and her husband were spending all their time at the hospital.
Joanna obviously had to stop work - but then her husband was made redundant.
The Woodhouse couple visited South East Area Sheffield CAB and spoke to an expert in helping families with young children.
The adviser helped them receive tax credits and child benefit and sort out some of their debts.
But nine months on Victoria is still very poorly.
Joanna added: “I spend every day with her in the hospital. It remains an extremely stressful time but I have become more used to it. But we are both clear that without the support of the adviser in the early days, I am not sure we would have coped.”
Case Study 2
SHEILA Cameron knew her 12-year-old son was probably entitled to disability living allowance, but she was too busy and sleep deprived to apply.
She said: “I put off claiming for ages, not because I couldn’t fill in the form, but more because I thought that somehow as a parent it was my job to provide all the care.
“I was under so much pressure, often getting little or no sleep, that I just didn’t have the resources to think about benefits.”
Sheila, from Pitsmoor, applied with the help of an adviser Pistmoor Citizen’s Advice Centre.
She added: “It was refused at first. But then the adviser helped me gather all the medical evidence about my son’s disability. She also was the first person who got me to admit just how much care and support he needed. Once I sent in all the extra information, the benefit was awarded straightaway.”
Sheila says receiving the extra benefit has given her family a future.
“Living with my son definitely costs more. For example, he isn’t able to go out on his own so any social activities cost more because I need to go along too.
“But the thing I was really scared of is that we would have to move from our private rented home. And that would have been devastating, because he more than anyone else needs stability and familiarity in his life.
“It is such a relief to have got this benefit claim sorted out. It lets me provide opportunities that boost his self-confidence and allows him to do the same things that other children his age enjoy.“