A CITIZENS' Advice Bureau has entrenched itself in the community as a charity that supports those in need in the Stroud District.
Some of the reasons that people go to the Stroud and Cotswold District Citizens' Advice Bureau relate to benefits, debt, employment, planning, housing and consumer issues.
Sally Pickering, 53 and chief officer at the CAB, said: “People frequently push issues off over winter and December and then everyone comes in in January – but this time it’s been very busy in December.
“There’s definitely been an increased demand for our services.
“Half of the issues we encounter are money related – we all have them in different forms, many people have never experienced issues with money like debt before but then a life changing experience happens such as divorce or illness and things get out of hand.”
The Stroud & Cotswold branch, based in London Road, works with local charities such as the Marah Trust to provide clients with the best support network possible.
Staff specialise in their handling of information, digging to the root of a problem to work out where the problem lies and who would be best placed to fix it.
“We’re volunteer-led – but that doesn’t make us any less professional, many of our volunteers were solicitors and traders themselves and on top of this they have a lot of local connectivity.
“Some were involved with other charities so understand the wider support that is available,” said Sally, who was worked alongside local charities for more than 25 years on causes such as homelessness, domestic violence and mental health.
“We have a draw on our resources like any charity, we aren’t government funded so rely completely on donations from the community."
Frequently when the national government is looking into an issue, they will contact CAB, treating them almost as a local caseworker due to the vast range of data they are able to collect and their community insight.
CAB also acts as a “critical friend” to Stroud District Council to help shape public policy to better suit the region’s residents.
Locally, many of the Stroud area’s poverty issues relate to transport and connectivity.
“Increasingly fewer people can afford to live in Stroud, moving further afield to places like Berkeley.
“The issue compounds when most of the jobs are based in Stroud, meaning people must shell out further costs for a car and fuel,” said Sally.
Siân Barlow, 55, has worked at CAB for nine years, and three years as a paid specialist, said: “What we’re noticing now is that people’s lives are increasingly more and more difficult – also due to the amount of resources available to people online, when they do come to us it’s because their problem is very complicated.
“Many of the issues that come to us are about benefit reconsiderations.
“When people appeal for their benefits to be reconsidered they must go without them for up to six months and are frequently pushed towards job seekers – which isn’t viable because they aren’t fit to work, said Siân.
“60 per cent of appeals are won by the claimants and that’s a lot of money tied up in a process which could be avoided if the system was fair – luckily the government is now considering a change.”