Bureau under the pump

Te Awamutu’s Citizens Advice Bureau volunteers are doing double shifts to meet the demands of advice seekers.

“The last two years for us have just been crazy, we never stopped,” said Manager Jessica Brown.

The bureau is also adding services – it is to host Family Court staff fortnightly to assist clients with legal issues.

The branch had close to 5900 client interactions in the year ending June 30, and 6500 the previous year- their biggest ever.

“If we weren’t here last year, there would be an extra 5900 more problems that were never dealt with, or 5900 people who would have just let things happen to them, when they could have got help,” Brown said.

Despite being based in Te Awamutu, the branch, like all CABs, receives inquiries from callers nationwide.

The Te Awamutu branch used to take calls from Waikeria Prison, which they returned to doing last week. But from the start of lockdown, they and two other branches were answering calls from all 18 of New Zealand’s prisons, creating an influx of demand.

Brown said that the current demand for their services is still higher than what it was before Covid. And with Ōtorohanga’s CAB ceasing operations last August, they have taken on a steady stream of extra clients.

Faced with extra demand, winter illnesses and leave, the branch is looking for more volunteers to help.

“If I could get maybe another five volunteers, we would be okay,” said Brown.

She said that having extra volunteers would help to reduce the pressure on existing staff and allow for the organisation to expand their services.

In addition to helping clients, volunteer Kate Jones keeps CAB’s online community database up to date.

In March, they joined forces with the Kihikihi Community Hub, to offer advice to Kihikihi residents on a weekly basis. Last week, they debuted a Family Court service, and will now host Family Court staff fortnightly to assist clients with legal issues.

“Because of our lack of volunteers, it has just been me going out to try and get these clinics started, which has taken me away from my other work… If we had extra volunteers, we could put more into getting those services up and running,” Brown said.

In addition to taking calls, volunteers help with a variety of tasks. Brown, who is the branch’s only paid staff member, takes on administrative and networking jobs, volunteer Kate Jones makes sure that the branch’s online community data base is up to date, and others are responsible for rostering, or helping to organise and order the branch’s pamphlets.

“I and a lot of the volunteers find it very rewarding. Sometimes people walk out the door very thankful and grateful. That is when you know that you’ve actually done something that is going to change that person’s life, because they’re going to be able to go to work tomorrow, or they are going to be able to put food on the table, or they are going to have somewhere to sleep.”

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