Since North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service was founded in 1998, we have grown and expanded to become North Ayrshire's leading advice and information charity, helping more and more people.
Back in 1998, Cunninghame Citizens Advice, the Unemployed Workers Centre and Arran Information and Advice decided to join forces and combine their efforts in offering advice to the population of North Ayrshire. The service was incorporated into the Citizens Advice Service and has been around ever since.
Much like today, the service was run by volunteers dedicating their time to help individuals – whatever their enquiry. Only they didn’t have the plethora of information available to us today and had to make do with written resources (which as you can imagine was rather time consuming). We now utilise a comprehensive advice information system which is updated daily and used by 17,000 CAB advisers.
In 2005, our Saltcoats bureau moved to a new location, with better accessibility and rooms for advising. We extended our walk-in opening times and increased our provision for home visits.
We handled 13,222 enquires as well as taking on 560 new debt cases, managing £6 million in client debt.
We also launched our first website attracting 3600 unique visitors within the first year.
Our current CEO, Nina Smith, joined the service in 2006, assisting in securing additional funding for a recruitment and training project which raised our profile and helped attract new volunteers.
We also introduced a Money Advice Debt Outreach project enabling us to take our Money Advice to a new level in addition to the 13,951 bureau enquires handled.
The closure of electronics factor Simclar with the loss of 400 jobs was a shock to the local community, and we set up an outreach clinic to help 198 non-unionised members of the workforce.
Enquiries rose to over 15,000 in 2007 showing an increasing demand for our service.
The Now Let’s Talk Money Campaign (NLTM) funded by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) was also launched. Through the network of bureaux, the project aimed to directly increase the awareness of financially excluded people to the availability and value of affordable credit, bank accounts, financial advice and guidance to access to safe savings.
March 2010 saw the opening of a new bureau in Irvine, expanding our reach across North Ayrshire to meet the demand.
We were also awarded the National Standard for Information and Advice providers in the majority of categories at Type 3 an accolade which we still carry today and is one of our unique selling points as a service. Type 3 is the highest level of advice giving in the standard and involves cases that may require complex casework and external representation.
A joint venture with East Ayrshire CAB was established catered to deal with complaints and advice for clients using the National Health Service (NHS) known as Independent Advice and Support Service (Now PASS).
We had the biggest IT overhaul the service had seen in 2011 with the introduction of our paperless case management system CASTLE (Cases and statistics linked electronically). The move allowed us to better record data and understand our clients and allowed for case checking and more complex statistical reporting.
2012 saw the bureaux busier than ever, the demand resulting from the recession still biting; changes to the way sickness benefits were paid has increased volumes of appeal cases and had the most robust implementation of sanctions for those in receipt of job seekers allowance. In addition, the necessity to raise awareness for the upcoming changes to the welfare state continued to fill our already oversubscribed waiting rooms. With increased numbers of clients at our doors and working within constrained funding, 2012/13 presented some difficult decisions for the Board of Directors. It appeared that one of the only solutions available would be to consolidate resources.
We handled 21,000 enquires; 491 benefits appeal representations with a success rate of 62% resulting in award benefits payable of £715,841, 330 new debt cases with £3.1 million debt managed.
We trialled a money advice project in conjunction with the Accountant In Bankruptcy. Our money adviser in situ provided specialist debt advice to clients domiciled throughout the country via referrals routed through the Accountant in Bankruptcy.
Our Patient Adviser for Ayrshire and Arran (PASS) seamlessly managed the transition from (IASS) forerunner of PASS and has continued to ensure that the service is one of the highest PASS services in Scotland.
Again the service continued to grow and we saw our first ever volunteer event which was held at Seamill Hydro and funded by Awards for All. The event was organised by volunteers and 34 partner organisations made up an information village where volunteers got to know other local and national organisations they could refer clients to.
A move of administrative functions to the Michael Lynch Centre in Ardrossan was made in 2014. Success in additional funding allowed us to increase our staffing which in turn gave the service added specialist projects through Energy Best Deal and Martin Lewis funding and PASSand AIB project also continued.
2015 saw a period of growth not just in the number of clients using our service but in the range and depth of information and advice being offered. Due to significant changes in the benefit system coupled with reduced levels of consumer credit debt, benefits remained the most frequent issue brought to us by clients making up 41% of enquiries. Debt and Money advice followed closely being as the second largest area of advice sought in our bureaux. North Ayrshire was ranked third in local authority areas for bankruptcies and within the top ten for PTDs and SPPs (Accountant in Bankruptcy, Annual Report 2013/14).
We continued to secure additional funding and due to the success of previous efforts, the majority of our projects continued with the addition of new projects of Pensionwise and the Accessibility project, funded by the Big Lottery. As a result we exceeded the audit limit for charitable income and therefore require a full audit, rather than an independent examination.
Towards the end of the year, mounting concerns over the health and safety of two bureau premises coupled with the changing financial landscape and shift to digital service, led the Board to take the strategic decision to move to amalgamate our offices to a single site in Saltcoats – the place where you can find us today.
Such decision has allowed us to consider innovative ways of working while delivering the same or better service, while reducing our physical footprint.