New Leeds advice service to cope with demand

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A top team of experts could take over the running of a new advice service to cope with “unprecedented high demand” for help in the city.

Council bosses are considering launching a new advice service in Leeds from next year focusing on debt advice.

A report to the council’s executive board, which meets next week, describes unprecedented demand for support, due to the economic downturn and welfare reforms.

The report says the service could be run by a consortium of Leeds advice agencies – made up of Leeds Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Chapeltown Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Leeds Law Centre and Burley Lodge Advice Centre.

This ‘Leeds Advice Consortium’ would use council funding, of £1.35m a year, to provide a more integrated and accessible service. It would cover welfare benefits, debt, housing, employment, consumer affairs, utilities and immigration and asylum, but would focus on the financial side to begin with.

The report – which follows a service review which took place between September 2012 and March 2013 – suggests a consortium would be better placed to attract further funding and already boasts strong expertise and knowledge to be able to “hit the ground running” with a new service.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “As a city we need to meet the growing demand for free impartial and confidential advice especially focusing on financial advice at a time of unprecedented high demand for such support.

“We need to do all we can to help people out of poverty, and prevent others from falling into this bracket.

“We’re already seeing the effects of welfare reform with people falling into rent arrears and council tax arrears. As a council we are willing to provide money for this vital service and ensure that it works in the best way possible.

“Through appointing the consortium of Leeds Advice Agencies, subject to the continuing negotiations, we can retain local employment and volunteering opportunities, attract additional public and charitable investment into the city and further develop the strong local advice network.”

The new service would make better use of technology and ensure a more targeted neighbourhood and community approach.

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