“We’ve seen a drop in volunteer numbers, and people are coming with more complex problems than ever before which are taking more time to resolve.”
Despite this predicament, the chief executive of Central and South Sussex Citizen’s Advice Bureau was upbeat at a special day of celebration held at the Drill Hall in Horsham last week.
“We’re celebrating a really successful year in the CAB,” Sarah Hyde told the County Times. “We have merged Crawley and Horsham, three Mid Sussex Centres and three Adur and Worthing centres, and today is a chance to pause and reflect on what we have really achieved.”
Around a hundred CAB staff, volunteers and guests gathered at the event to share a tea and cake with colleagues, network and listen to the guest speaker Anna Bradley, the chair of Healthwatch England, and the chair of Southern Water Customer Challenge Group.
Her keynote address centred on what it is to be a consumer champion, starting from the premise that we all have rights as consumers.
“I think it is something in health and social care we do not think enough about,” she told the paper.
“We’re too grateful and we need to flex our muscles a bit and actually say there are things we expect.
“We expect a bit of choice where appropriate.
“We expect good information to help us, make the right decision.
“And we expect redress and we expect our complaints to be dealt with and our concerns listened to.”
CAB services are free and the charity has eleven offices in West Sussex, with Sarah Hyde responsible for eight of them.
She said: “We are a local charity and we are independent so donations are really important to us.
“We’re also always really keen on volunteering and anyone can apply.
“We have a range of roles, not all about advising, from our telephone teams, to MacMillan Cancer Support offer, and our Royal British Legion work, so we have a number of projects that people can get involved with.
“They can specialise too, so if they have a background in debt management for example they can volunteer and use those skills.”
Debt is also a good example of how the problems CAB advisors are dealing with have become more complex in recent years.
“People don’t have the safety nets they used to have,” said Sarah.
“So they don’t have insurances, so if their life changes they cannot afford the level of debt they could previously service.
“Debt Relief Orders is a very complex piece of statute that we help to administer too.
“And Welfare Benefit Reform is coming up as well and with that all about to happen it is a big change for people.
“Our face to face service is heavily relied on, especially from people that can’t deal with help lines,” added the chief executive.
A number of local authority dignitaries attended the event, with councils in West Sussex committed to funding CAB services at present, although there is no statutory duty for them to do so.
But Sarah said for every one pound they invest, CAB returns three into the local economy, making them ‘really good value for money’.