Citizens Advice Banbridge’s decision to reduce its weekly outreach service in Rathfriland and Gilford is a ‘blow to the area’ according to DUP Councillor Carla Lockhart.
The outreach service, which has operated for many years, will be reduced to a monthly session from the beginning of the new financial year.
The weekly outreach service in Dromore will not be affected.
Cllr Lockhart said: “This is very worrying turn of events for Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Rathfriland and Gilford. I will be seeking to meet with CAB management to encourage them to overturn this decision.
“Both areas are in great need of assistance and it is vital that given the proposed change in benefits, that there is a service to assist people in this regard.
“CAB is a long established, highly regarded service and I know that it will be sorely missed. It is a blow to the area.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson believes that CAB needs greater support.
She said: “I have met with management and staff at the Citizens Advice office in Banbridge on a number of occasions and know the fantastic and often complex work they do. They are deserving of much greater support from the Department of Social Development.
“I have written to successive DSD Ministers encouraging them to increase support to the Citizens Advice Bureau and also other organisations in the community and voluntary sectors given the changes coming through as a result of welfare reforms.”
In a statement, Citizens Advice Banbridge explained the reduction was down to a decrease in the number of people attending the outreach venues.
It said: “Many people are now using mobile phones and tablets to access information through other means such as telephone advice and the Citizens Advice online site, Adviceguide. In addition, Citizens Advice Banbridge has seen a decrease in resources and needs to consider the most effective use of these limited resources, while recognising the importance of maintaining a service that meets the needs of many of the most vulnerable in the community.
“Following a review of outreach services, and taking account of the need to make the best use of our funding which has decreased over the last years, the Trustee Board has reluctantly come to the decision that we will have to reduce the outreach advice sessions in Gilford and Rathfriland to a monthly session from the beginning of the new financial year.”