South Lakes Citizens Advice chief officer Karen Evans explains the work of the organisation and how it can help people across the district in many ways

South Lakes Citizens Advice is a charity that is there with advice and support for everyone.

Citizens Advice sees more people dealing with many different types of problems and challenges in their lives than any other organisation.

At worst some of the difficulties people experience can be ruinous to their lives and relationships, resulting in, for example, homelessness, poverty and both physical and mental ill health.

South Lakes Citizens Advice has an excellent track record of helping people to deal with life’s crises.

We provide high-quality advice on a wide range of issues relating to debt and benefits, employment, housing, relationships and many more.

All local Citizens Advices are individual charities and must raise their own funds. The majority of people recognise the worth of the services provided by South Lakes Citizens Advice but most think Citizens Advice is funded by central Government or is even a branch of Government, which it is not, and do not realise the enormous efforts needed to keep this charity afloat.

South Lakes Citizens Advice is of enormous value to this community. Last year our 56 highly-trained volunteers helped and supported 2,182 individual clients and dealt with 6,651 issues on their behalf. These volunteers give freely of their time. If we paid them this would cost a staggering £430,581.00!

Advice is delivered through many channels across South Lakeland to suit the needs of our clients. These include dedicated appointments, “drop in” sessions, telephone, letter and e-mail. Drop in advice sessions are available in Kendal and Ulverston and we also have an outreach service in Windermere.

Many different kinds of clients with a wide variety of needs and problems use our services. Citizens Advice records show that 50 per cent of our clients identify themselves as chronically sick or disabled. Income gained for these clients was more than£400,000 last year. We see people of all ages of whom 56 per cent are female.

Free Legal Aid services have all but ceased. Citizens Advice has the skills and knowledge to provide critical information for individuals who would otherwise be excluded from legal advice because of their inability to pay.

Some of those we see struggle with the level of literacy or skill required to fill in complex application forms. They and many other clients have difficulty in accessing the computers that are required to make digital applications. Nationally, Citizens Advice estimates that, in the immediate future, up to 12,500 people across south Cumbria could need help to switch over to Universal Credit.

South Lakes Citizens Advice has two dedicated, specialist teams dealing with debt and Macmillan Welfare Benefits.

The Debt Team helps people financially pushed beyond their means. Recent Citizens Advice research has identified significant levels of debt in South Lakeland totalling £850,675.89. Broken down by our different localities this debt is comprises: £176,768.48, in the Kendal area, £133,009.95 in the Ulverston area and £313,098.70 in Windermere.

There are numerous reasons why people can struggle with financial commitments. Planned or unplanned events of many kinds, including loss of employment, ill health, low pay and bereavement - any and all of these can push people into debt and, in many cases, poverty.

The Macmillan Welfare Benefits funded Project provides specialist advice when someone has been diagnosed with cancer. This can have a serious financial impact upon individuals and families with a reduction in income and increasing expenses.

In these situations our role is to work with the client to identify and provide whatever help and support they require.

South Lakes Citizens Advice is here not only to address and remedy the underlying causes of our clients’ problems but also to draw attention to the issues that matter both to them and the community at large.

We play an active role in identifying and providing evidence about matters of local and national concern. For example, our work has shown that the rules around the implementation of Universal Credit have proved very problematic for many people. Citizens Advice had gathered the evidence with which to lobby government and help bring about positive changes.

South Lakes Citizens Advice is here for the whole community. Misfortune or difficulties, often unexpected, affect many people’s lives and welfare. We are here to support and help anyone in dealing with the increasing challenges and problems they face.