Wirral people who are struggling to cope with the impact of welfare reforms on their personal circumstances will soon be able to access additional help and support.
Wirral Council has agreed a one-year contract with the Citizens Advice Bureau to deliver a package of free welfare advice, information and advocacy for residents affected by the benefits shake-up.
Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research identified Wirral as being one of the areas “worst affected” by the reforms.
Out of a total of 379 districts, researchers ranked Wirral 27th in the top 50 worst affected with an estimated loss per year of £127m and a financial loss per working age adult per year of £636, against the national average of £470 per year.
Against this backdrop, the council’s ruling cabinet approved an investment of £120,000 to provide an additional, dedicated welfare advice and advocacy service, available across the borough.
The council says the aim is "to try to help the increasing number of people who are struggling to come to terms with all the changes and are suffering greater hardship as a result of welfare reform."
After a competitive tender process, Wirral Citizens Advice Bureau – in partnership with Wired - was awarded the contract to deliver this programme from January 2014.
Philip Howley, chairman of the trustees of Wirral CAB, said: “This is an excellent opportunity for the CAB to provide timely and much needed advice to local residents, on behalf of the council, and in partnership with Wired.
“A lot of evidence points to the confusion which is being caused by the changes to welfare reform system, and I believe that this work will help our clients to better understand the changes and the impact on them and prevent many from falling into a crisis situation.”
Council leader Phil Davies said: “We are committed to doing whatever we can to help local people deal with the changes that have been inflicted upon them.
“Wirral CAB and Wired, through their teams of experienced staff and volunteers, are well-placed to deliver this service on our behalf quickly and effectively and I’d urge anyone who is struggling to get in touch.”
Wirral CAB plans to recruit a team of two advisers and one advocate, supported by an administration worker, to provide advice, information and advocacy on aspects of welfare reform changes, up to the stage of appeal and tribunal. .
At any time throughout the process, people may also be referred to Wirral Wired for complementary services to support clients with things like professional advocacy, money management and employment support.
This full service will launch in the next few weeks. Anyone requiring assistance urgently can call 0844 772121 or drop into any Council One Stop Shop or Citizens Advice Bureau office.