One of the busiest offices in the town is that of the Citizens Advice Centre where the workload has increased to such an extent that the dedicated volunteers that run the service are embarking on a major recruitment drive.
The service ,one of the first of its kind in the country,since it started has witnessed huge surges in demand and quiet periods but this recession has resulted in a massive call on its resources.
The office at the Community Services Centre in Michael Street is open five days a week (10am to 3pm) with a half day on Wednesday and every day is a busy one as a stream of people call in seeking assistance and advice from the trained volunteers on hand to dispense such information.
There are two part time staff and a total of nine volunteers but they could do with many more hands to help out.
With thirty eight years experience behind her
Pat Mayers had encouraging words for anybody interested in volunteering.
Pat was involved at the very beginning of the service and said she never regretted getting involved as a volunteer.
Pat believes there are many benefits now for people to get involved apart altogether from the fulfilment of helping people who need to be equipped with essential information.
“Volunteers that help in the centre receive valuable training and become familiar with the administration of various government departments and are knowledgeable about how the system works.We provide training free of charge and they learn valuable skills which stand to them if they are in the jobs market,” said Pat.
“I was at home,I was a housewife and I wanted something to do.It is very rewarding and volunteers need to be committed and to make themselves available for training,Its not just about filling out forms anymore, the work we do is far more complex than that.It is a whole process now regarding assistance, advice and an advocacy role,” said Pat.
Pat said the recession reminded her of the seventies and eighties when it was really hard to qualify for anything. “We have had the Celtic Tiger and the arrival of a huge number of EU nationals which greatly increased the amount of people coming in here looking for help,” said Pat.
Pat said that the EU nationals greatly appreciated the service they received as the patient and understanding approach of the volunteers ensured that there was somebody to listen and somebody to help.
Eddie Flaherty is there thirty four years and he has seen the type of inquiries change dramatically over that period.
“Back then there was little or no lone parents at the time and zero marriage break up, it was almost unheard of back then and all that has changed” he said.
Over a month the centre could deal with anything up to 600 queries some of which, such as appeal cases to social welfare, could take up an awful lot of time with volunteers involved in ringing departments on a constant basis to back up the appeals being made.
“You really have to know your stuff when you are representing a member of the public,” said Pat.
Eddie said that volunteers deal with cases presented by people aged sixteen and upwards.
“A lot of the cases would involve unemployment, securing reliefs for disabled people and trying to help people prepare a case for the carers allowance which a lot of people are being refused now,” said Eddie.
Eddie said that the cases can be broken down into a number of categories , the people who are trying to claim financial assistance and those that have financial assistance who are living in ‘constant fear’ of whatever relief they have being cut back or eliminated altogether.
“Its harder than ever to qualify for anything now because of the scarcity of money and people are living day to day in the belief that they could be denied financial assistance that they rely on ,” said Eddie.
“We are under pressure trying to cope with the amount of inquiries.We are looking for at least four or five people to come forward to help out as volunteers.There is training involved and we would be looking for a commitment to give a minimum of three hours a week,” said Eddie.
They have added a new service which sees a roster of solicitors offering free legal advice at the centre on t he second Wednesday of each month which allows the volunteers to pass on cases that really require legal advice.
“This is a very popular service and it is provided on a first come first served basis,” said Pat.
The service also provide outreach by going out to meet various organisations in the town such as the Irish Wh eelchair Association, Knockanrawely and the carers among others.