A Bermondsey charity manager has warned local services are “draining out of the community” after the Blue’s Citizens Advice Bureau closed in April.
The charitable organisation, which helps customers with everything from debt to divorce advice, chose not to renew the branch’s lease amid mounting “funding pressures”.
In 2022, people seeking crisis support through Citizens Advice increased 48 per cent, demonstrating how the rising cost of living has increased reliance on the service.
The Citizen’s Advice branch isn’t the only local service to shut its doors in recent months.
Earlier this year, the Barclays Bank on Tower Bridge Road permanently closed and the Walworth Road Post Office only recently reopened after a disruptive three-month hiatus.
Luds Van Den Belt, a Charity Manager at Big Local Works, an advice and support service also on the Blue, said: “There are no job centres around here and now there’s no Citizens Advice. You’re just slowly seeing services draining out of the community that need it most.
“South Bermondsey is in the ten per cent most deprived areas of the country and it’s an area that needs those support services.”
Big Local Works has seen demand increase since the Citizens Advice branch closed.
But there are some things, like debt and housing advice, which it’s less equipped to deal with.
“On a weekday there could be 25 people waiting for an appointment. They don’t where to go and they’re coming here for any type of advice. We’re pointing them to wherever where they can go with that,” said Luds.
Neil Coyle put his concerns about the closure to Citizens Advice’s Head of Policy, Morgan Wild, at a Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 7.
He asked why the branch had closed despite Citizens Advice’s £153 million turnover and whether alternative venues had been considered.
Explaining that the organisation was facing the “bleakest” situation since WWII, Wild said: “The challenges we face as a service are extraordinary.
“We have vastly more demand than we are able to advise and funding has been under continuous pressure so we are always looking for opportunities to make sure that we can reduce costs where possible while maintaining the overall level of provision for our services.”
Local councillor Rachel Bentley said: ““Over the past year, I know that the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Southwark has seen an unprecedented demand for services without the commensurate funding increases.
“CAB is a lifeline for residents and I’m keen to work with CAB Southwark to ensure that residents in the north of the borough can still readily access their services in their hour of need.”
Citizen’s Advice did not answer this paper’s enquiries as to whether alternative venues had been considered prior to the Bermondsey branch’s closure.
However, a spokesperson did say: “The Bermondsey office closed in April 2023 following a decision by the CAS trustee Board not to renew the lease due to funding pressures on the organisation.
“Our funding has not kept pace with the surging level of demand, and so we are always looking at how we can deliver our service most effectively, and will continue to do so.”
Bermondsey people looking to access face-to-face Citizens Advice services are being told to visit the Peckham office at 97 Peckham High Street, SE15 5RS, or the Walworth office at 6-8 Westmoreland Road, Walworth, SE17 2AY.