Thousands more people in Gosport relying on Citizens Advice for help

From left, Yvonne Winstanley, case worker for Citizen's Advice, Rosemary Maxwell, project lead for Citizen's Advice, Richard Mackay, chair of trustees at Citizen's Advice Gosport, Valerie Kelly, chief officer of Citizen's Advice Gosport. Picture: Sarah Standing (180864-9526)
From left, Yvonne Winstanley, case worker for Citizen's Advice, Rosemary Maxwell, project lead for Citizen's Advice, Richard Mackay, chair of trustees at Citizen's Advice Gosport, Valerie Kelly, chief officer of Citizen's Advice Gosport. Picture: Sarah Standing (180864-9526)
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THE number of people asking volunteers for help with debt, mental health and benefits has skyrocketed in the past year, according to the service.

A report from the Citizens Advice service in Gosport shows that more than 1,000 new clients came through the doors last year – and volunteers are struggling to cope with the demand.

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In the 2018/19 financial year, Gosport saw 3,197 new or unique clients, with most having problems with Employment and Support Allowance, council tax and Personal Independence Payments.

Since 2015, the number of disabled people accessing the service has more than tripled.

Chief officer for Citizens Advice in Gosport, Valerie Kelly, said the service now operates five days a week to meet the increase in visitors, but needs twice as many volunteers.

She said: ‘In 2018/19 we dealt with a total of 11,030 cases. People come in with a specific issue but when we examine their situation, we find other things behind that too.

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‘We’ve seen more and more people coming through the doors, particularly young people and those with disabilities.

‘Listening to their stories is absolutely heartbreaking – these people come in and break down in tears because they don’t know what to do or where to turn to.’

The report was presented to Gosport Borough Council’s policy and organisation board on September 25.

Ms Kelly said the main issue with Universal Credit is not with the system, but with getting people registered.

‘A lot of people don’t actually know how to apply for Universal Credit, so need one-to-one support,’ she said.

‘Some can't actually read or write, so it’s not as simple as just going online.

‘To date we’ve helped 156 people with their Universal Credit – help that would otherwise be unavailable.’

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Gosport councillors have praised the service for taking on pressure that would otherwise be put onto the council itself.

Cllr Piers Bateman said: 'If it weren't for Citizens Advice, a lot of these people would be coming to the council for help.

‘The work they do is incredibly valuable for Gosport.’