Islands’ Citizens Advice centres are making a positive impact

Island CAB centres dealt with 5,000 separate matters last year and gained at least �1m for islanders.
Island CAB centres dealt with 5,000 separate matters last year and gained at least �1m for islanders.

At least £1 million has went into the pockets of Islanders thanks to the work and support of the Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (CAB).

With four offices in Stornoway, Harris, Uist and Barra the service is on hand to help islanders with many different issues from navigating benefit claims, fuel costs, debt management, as well as many other issues, which are either draining clients’ resources, or to aid them in identifying a financial gain.

Last year the local service advised on nearly 5,000 separate matters.

In fact the gains CAB brings to Island residents directly, and also indirectly to the local economy, seem clear, as that £1m figure is very much a conservative accounting of the financial benefits realised.

With the service only noting the money gained that clients specifically tell them about the real figure is estimated to be around three times that amount.

Recently the service posted on social media accounts, Facebook and Twitter, that demand for their advice and support meant there may be a four-week waiting period for people to be seen, however this information forms a slightly skewed view of the situation.

A clearer picture is that the Stornoway centre, which deals with the most enquiries, comes under more pressure, but advisors are able to cope with this demand due to support from the other island CAB centres and the service also prioritises enquiries, so that all client requests for help are dealt with in an appropriate time frame.

It was also hoped the social media posts would encourage clients to get in touch with the island centres well ahead of any deadlines required by the matters they needed help with, for instance, benefit issues often need to be dealt with well ahead of any deadline specified in paper work.

Talking about the work of the service locally, Steve Hankinson, Strategic Manager for the Western Isles Citizens Advice Service, explained: “The four CAB offices on the Islands work closely together to make sure that all the advice we give is correct and helps as many Islanders as possible.

“We can make a financial difference to our clients but we also get rid of some of the worry and problems as well.

“If you want any advice please contact us as soon as possible and we will be there for you.

“Everything is completely confidential, completely free and we will give you a warm welcome.

“We will give you advice straight away on the phone, or book an appointment for you. All you need to do is to let us know if you cannot attend on the day given to you.

“The waiting times are very short but, with the greater population on Lewis, times at our Stornoway office can be a bit longer, but we are trying to sort this out.

“We are always looking for ways to improve our service, so if you have any ideas just let us know.”

He added: “If you want to volunteer with us please telephone your nearest office.

“It’s a very varied, interesting and worthwhile way to spend any spare time. The training and the support you will get is first class and the tea and coffee is also free!

“Finally, If you are a member of a group or charity and want us to come and talk to you, just let us know and we will gladly arrange a date.”