PLANS to scrap a Whitby financial advice service that, in one year, helped tackle personal debts totalling almost £1m pounds, have been condemned by residents.
Under the Government’s plans, funding for the debt advice service provided by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) will stop in March.
Jill Mandy, chief executive of Scarborough and District Citizens’ Advice Bureau, said: “The big difference between CAB debt advice and what’s available elsewhere is that our clients can talk to someone they trust in person.
“Once our service ends there simply won’t be anything available to Whitby residents that meets their needs.”
The Whitby Gazette spoke to a local pensioner, who asked not to be named and had received help from the service after her debts spiralled out of control.
She said: “If not for their help I would have committed suicide because these banks just keep lending you money and it got to the point where I was paying £100 per week and I couldn’t cope on my pension.”
The pensioner, who has also suffered three bouts of cancer in the past three years, grew desperate after being declared bankrupt.
When her bank then refused to do any more business with her she decided to visit Whitby’s financial assistance service.
“I went to citizens’ advice because I was frightened of what I would do to myself and they said yes, they could help,” she said.
“They calmed me down and told me not to worry.
“They really worked hard for me and I can’t praise them enough.”
The Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) was established in 2006 to give free, unbiased debt advice to people on low income who were struggling to control their finances and was targeted towards areas of deprivation.
Whitby currently has one dedicated worker who has helped 50 Whitby people with debts totalling £800,630.
Worker Vicki Smith said: “People can find themselves with unmanageable debts for all sorts of reasons – job loss, relationship or health breakdown or simply from trying to manage on very low incomes.
“Potentially everyone in Whitby who has credit could be a client of the FIF scheme.
“With the onset of further public sector redundancies and the expected rise in interest rates we don’t expect the demand for debt advice to reduce in the foreseeable future.
“In fact, we fear that demand will soar.”
With no free service available it is feared residents of the Whitby area will turn to rogue debt management companies who charge for their service and about whom complaints have risen by 25% in less than a year.