Citizens Advice recovers £4.1m in unclaimed benefits for local clients

Pol Callaghan, Executive Director Citizens Advice, Kelly Andrews, Citizens Advice, Melanie Humphrey, Chairperson Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Mayor Thomas Hogg, and Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.
Pol Callaghan, Executive Director Citizens Advice, Kelly Andrews, Citizens Advice, Melanie Humphrey, Chairperson Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Mayor Thomas Hogg, and Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.

Citizens Advice Newtownabbey recovered £4.1million in unclaimed benefits for its clients during the past financial year, it has been revealed.

According to the organisation’s annual report for 2014/15, staff dealt with a staggering 34,453 enquiries over the 12-month period and provided help to clients with a combined debt of almost £10million.

The report was presented to the Rathcoole-based advice service’s Annual General Meeting, which took place at the Dunanney Centre last Thursday, September 17.

The theme of this year’s publication is ‘Helping local people’ - something Citizens Advice Newtownabbey (formerly Newtownabbey CAB) has been doing for more than 30 years.

Presenting the report, District Manager Pat Hutchinson said: “Reclaiming £4.1million for the people of Newtownabbey undoubtedly makes a huge impact on both local people and the local economy. Newtownabbey is just like any other borough in the UK; it has thousands of people in need of advice, assistance and representation. The proposed Welfare Reform changes are already having a major effect on most parts of our society, particularly the most vulnerable people of Newtownabbey. This £4.1million benefit uptake will help local people and in particular the most vulnerable families, this is real money helping local people.”

The report also reveals that the amount of client debt being dealt with by the bureau in 2014/15 through its money advice project was a whopping £9.8million.

“Debt advice and relieving the accompanying stress for clients continues to be a major part of our service,” Mrs Hutchinson continued. “Our role is to help them to ‘take control’ of the problem and help find a way forward.

“But we don’t only help change people’s lives financially. Every week we meet clients of all ages whose lives we’ve changed emotionally for the better. Often people come to us when they feel they have nowhere left to turn. Simply by discussing their issues with an advisor is often the first step to helping them deal with them.”

Mrs Hutchinson went on to thank Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and the Public Health Agency for their ongoing financial support, and the local storehouses/foodbanks that provide food for needy clients.

The AGM heard how Citizens Advice Newtownabbey has been awarded the Investors In People ‘silver’ accreditation - recognition of the hard work of trustees, staff and volunteers in providing the highest quality of service.

Guest speaker, Mr Pol Callaghan, Executive Director of Citizens Advice Northern Ireland, congratulated Citizens Advice Newtownabbey on “another impressive year” and praised the local team for “continuing to deliver positive results for its clients and for the wider community.”

Chairperson Melanie Humphrey thanked her predecessor, Billy Snoddy, for his long service and “stellar leadership of the board of trustees”, wishing him well in his role as Chairman of Citizens Advice Bureau regional office.