At about 9am yesterday morning, I turned up at the Newham Citizens’ Advice Bureau to queue for a 10am-1pm Gateway drop-in session. The plan was to meet this young woman there and to hopefully get some direction from the CAB on her benefit deduction and rent arrears problems, and maybe a longer appointment later.
The problem was that even at 9am, the queue was already closed. I know I should have made my way there earlier. The woman at the desk told me that the CAB could only see eight people at the 10am-1pm drop-in yesterday and that those eight had already been chosen (appointments are allotted on a first come first serve basis). Some days, the CAB sees 12 people, but yesterday, it was only eight. That was the end of that. The woman was pleasant and as helpful as she could be about things, but said that our only option was to come back at the same time next week (and make sure to queue earlier), or to try the Freemasons Road drop-in today (and queue early there, too).
Anyway. I realise that people already know it can be hard to get advice because of the demand, or because law centres have closed and so on. People talk about that a lot. They tell me they’re sent from one CAB to another. Jobcentre advisers at the Kilburn jobcentre were actually telling people to go to the local unemployed workers’ group for advice at one point, because that group was very good at sorting people’s problems out. It’s always worth pointing out how quickly the window can close otherwise, and that the demand means people in dire straits must be turned away without advice.
It’s possible that trouble accessing advice and support services excludes people from other support options, too. Here’s an example: last week, a helpful reader of this site sent me information about several funds that the young woman with rent arrears might apply to for help with her debts (that advice was much appreciated). It seems that applications to one of those funds can only be made by professional support workers, or the CAB, though. You see where I am going with this: you might struggle to get into the CAB, but you can’t access some of the help on offer unless you get into the CAB.
Jobcentres will sometimes try to use that sort of concept in a perverse way to actively deny people their rights: they’ll insist that JSA claimants can only be accompanied to appointments by “official” advisers, or supporters from recognised organisations (this is incorrect, as it happens. People can take a family member, or friend). One of the East London jobcentres recently tried that on with me and someone I was accompanying: staff there tried to take the line that only recognised support workers were really allowed. The security guards at that jobcentre were wrong to say that, but they absolutely wouldn’t let me in.
Anyway. I suppose the point I’m making is that I spend a lot of time with people who are facing eviction and/or dealing with debt problems, jobcentre problems, sanction problems – the works. They really need advice from people who are expert in a range of fields: housing, benefit entitlements, debt relief and debt management, and legal aid rights and entitlements. People come to my site from time to time to say that they have tried the CAB and to ask if I can recommend anyone else who can help. Mostly, I have absolutely no idea what to suggest.