INTERIM funding has been secured to keep two Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) offices open in West Belfast amidst fears both could close due to funding shortages.
The Falls CAB advice centre on the Springfield Road and its sister office on the Shankill Road are currently up for sale after the charity finished the 2011/12 financial year with a deficit and with only enough Belfast City Council and Department for Social Development funding to cover expenses at CAB offices in West Belfast’s Suffolk and Andersonstown branch.
However, money has been secured at a late stage to ensure the offices will remain open for the next six months with the hope that CAB will be able to secure cheaper premises for the two affected branches over the summer months.
Last year CAB, the largest advice charity in the North that provides free, impartial advice to those in need, helped over 30,000 clients in the Belfast area alone.
Speaking about the six-month reprieve, volunteers at the CAB Falls office said they welcomed the news with “cautious satisfaction”.
“We have been told that there is potentially more funding available thereafter,” said Falls CAB volunteer spokesperson Caoimhín Ó Cléirigh.
“We, the volunteers, wish to thank you all for your interest and continued support on this issue. Again we hope that this is in fact the outcome that we all had hoped for. The Falls community cannot afford to take what would have been a damaging blow.”
West Belfast SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood also welcomed the interim funding announcement.
“It is essential that the long-term future of CAB’s professional, independent and impartial advice and advocacy services is secured in the long-term as the need for advice services in Falls and Shankill has never been greater,” he said.
“It is important that people in these areas of acute need have access to quality advice and information services. I have been working with volunteers and staff to highlight the case for maintaining these advice services. I have raised the issue with Belfast City Council officials and the DSD [Department for Social Development] Minister. Given the economic downturn and the negative impact of welfare reform, the need for increased funding of advice services has never been greater.”
A CAB spokesperson said the Falls and Shankill advice centres will be relocating to new offices over the summer period with the two new addresses to be advertised shortly.
“We do not anticipate any reduction in services to our clients during this period,” said the spokesperson.
Citizens Advice Belfast Interim Chief Executive, Ian Savage, said the organisation would be “writing formally to the [Belfast City] Council to request additional funding for the longer term.”