Portsmouth Citizens Advice branch faces axe as funding dries up

Operations Director Sandy O'Neill, left, with volunteers Bridget Day and Derek Woodhall at Cosham Citizens Advice Bureau which is closing down.
 Picture Ian Hargreaves.
Operations Director Sandy O'Neill, left, with volunteers Bridget Day and Derek Woodhall at Cosham Citizens Advice Bureau which is closing down. Picture Ian Hargreaves.
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THE death knell has sounded for a vital family support hub – sparking fears more people will be forced into poverty.

The Cosham branch of Portsmouth’s Citizens Advice Bureau is being axed after running out of cash, despite rising demand for its services.

I think more people will be plunged into poverty. At a time when we are seeing people needing a massive amount of support, we are going to be taking the service away from them.’

Sandy O’Neill, CAB operations manager

Last year alone, 2,200 people came for help over 8,700 issues affecting their lives.

It means more pressure will be piled on CAB’s main base in Winston Churchill Avenue to look after those seeking help over issues ranging from mounting debt to rent and tax arrears and homelessness.

It’s feared many in the north of the city will struggle to get there, as well as facing difficulties getting to the next nearest advice centre, Advice Portsmouth in North End.

Workers say they’ve tried their best to keep running the Cosham service, which has been in the community since the start of the Second World War, since the city council pulled its funding in 2012, but now there’s no money left to protect it any longer.

Sandy O’Neill, CAB operations manager, said: ‘There is still huge demand.

‘What we had to do on a reduced service was turn people away because we have been limited in terms of what we could do.

‘The main issue is, the nearest advice service will be in North End, so we need to think about those clients that come to us in all sorts of poverty, had their benefits stopped, and don’t have access to funding.

‘They won’t be able to get to North End for advice.

‘For some, it won’t be accessible. So we are concerned what will happen to those people.

‘I think more people will be plunged into poverty.

‘At a time when we are seeing people needing a massive amount of support, we are going to be taking the service away from them.’

CAB bosses said they had ‘drawn on reserves’ over the last 18 months to keep Cosham going – but the service can no longer ‘run at a loss’ and has to balance the books.

Prior to having its council funding removed, the Cosham service was a ‘thriving’ service running five days a week with 12 staff.

It was cut down to two days a week in May last year.

Cosham CAB volunteer Bridget Day, said: ‘I feel really sad, because I go back to the time when it was a thriving, happy, well run bureau.

‘We used to see up to three dozen people in a day, and there was a lot of job satisfaction to be had.’

Derek Woodhall, a former paid member of staff and volunteer since 2013, said: ‘People will struggle to go elsewhere for help, and may not want to go elsewhere.

‘Deprivation has increased in certain parts of Portsmouth.

‘There’s a wide range of situations, such as poor housing and quality of life.’

Portsmouth CAB service data shows it provided £2.5m for residents in 2015/2016, through gaining them extra benefits, writing off debt and preventing homelessness.

Cosham CAB’s final day will be Tuesday, February 28.

The building it is based at, near the Rowans Hospice Furniture Shop in Northern Road, is set to be demolished.