Communities Minister, Paul Givan MLA, has announced an initial £2.5million package of support to frontline advice organisations. This package is part of the £8million that the Northern Ireland Executive has made available to provide additional support over the next four years.
The support will be provided to the Citizens Advice Bureau, Advice NI and the Law Centre NI to provide additional advice services to assist the general public through the implementation of the ongoing changes to the welfare system.
The £2.5million will fund a freephone helpline resourced with nine additional advisors and a further 35 advisers to provide face to face assistance. The advisers will be based across all 11 council areas in Northern Ireland located in local Citizens Advice and Advice NI offices. The new additional advice services will also include the provision of specialist legal advice from the Law Centre and access to specialist services where required. The Minister has asked that the new service be reviewed after 18 months to ensure it continues to meet the need of front line organisations.
Minister Givan said: “Access to expert independent advice will be critical in helping people to negotiate the welfare changes and this essential funding, which I am releasing to our advice partners, will ensure that the general public are fully supported as changes to the welfare system are introduced in Northern Ireland. This £2.5million is additional to the £810,000 additional funding to councils which I announced recently, and demonstrates my commitment to ensuring that as we change the welfare system, claimants across Northern Ireland will have access to independent advice and support on what the changes mean for them.
“Regional frontline advice organisations play a vital role in supporting those affected through the changes to their benefits and this package of support will provide a vital network of specialist support.”
On behalf of the Welfare Reform Advice Consortium, Pól Callaghan from the Citizens Advice Northern Ireland said: “Together we will ensure that the £2.5million funding provided by the Department for Communities is used to support those affected by welfare changes across Northern Ireland. This will fund 35 additional advisers to deliver face to face assistance and a further nine advisers to provide a freephone helpline giving advice on welfare changes and financial capability. The advisers will be based across all 11 council areas in Northern Ireland in local Citizens Advice and Advice NI offices.”
This additional funding follows a recent £810,000 package of support to local councils in Northern Ireland to help fund critical frontline advice services.