Citizens Advice Mid Ulster, which is set to close its doors for good next month, has said it is “disappointing” that the local Council wasn’t able to identify a means of finding additional funding for a service which provides for the most vulnerable in society.
The charity, which has offices in the district’s main towns, will shut on March 31, following a Council decision to appoint a different service provider - STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Project).
A council spokesperson stressed there will be no break in provision and assured local people that the level of service provided in towns and through outreach programmes will be maintained.
“The aim is that Citizens Advice Mid Ulster and STEP will work together to make arrangements towards as smooth a transition as possible, particularly for those clients whose issues or cases may cross the handover period,” said the spokesperson.
“Their cooperation will ensure that our residents continue to avail of high quality and timely advice services.”
In a statement, Citizens Advice Mid Ulster said in recent years they have been required to competitively tender to the Council for core funding.
“Both the charity and the service Citizens Advice Mid Ulster provides has been stretched as a result, as the funding levels provided have been reduced in real terms by over 20% since 2015, but with additional onerous requirements added into the tender and contract,” they said.
“Mid Ulster District Council advertised a tender for the core generalist advice service in late September 2018, for the three years April 2019 to March 2022. Citizens Advice Mid Ulster submitted a tender to continue services from April 2019.
“Regrettably, Mid Ulster District Council have recently informed Citizens Advice Mid Ulster that they intend to award the core generalist advice service contract to another organisation.
“It is disappointing that Mid Ulster District Council, a Council that places itself at the heart of the community, could not identify a means of finding additional funding for a service provided to the most vulnerable in society, at a time when Universal Credit and ongoing changes to the welfare benefits system are having an adverse impact.
“As a consequence of this decision by Mid Ulster District Council, Citizens Advice Mid Ulster will be permanently closed down by March 31.”
Continuing, the charity said they wanted to let the general public know “of this huge loss to them, as well as the huge loss to the independent advice sector.
“Citizens Advice Mid Ulster are unaware of the details of the office locations and telephone advice line numbers of he provider funded by Mid Ulster District Council from April 2019. These details are presumably available to the public by contacting Mid Ulster District Council on 03000132132.”
They said they will be contacting ongoing casework clients over the coming weeks. Clients with cases that have previously or recently closed are encouraged to call into any of the main offices to collect their documentation.
“Citizens Advice Mid Ulster would like to thank all of our clients and the general public for their support and donations to the charity over the years and for their understanding and patience during this difficult time towards the staff and volunteers,” the charity went on.
“Citizens Advice Mid Ulster would also like to thank our various funders over the years. Finally, Citizens Advice Mid Ulster would like to thank all of our staff and volunteers and wish them well in whatever new ventures they chose post March 2019, as without the staff and volunteers over the years, the high quality of the advice service provided would have been impossible to achieve.”