Shaftesbury’s Free Benefits And Legal Advice Sessions Are Supported By Council

Shaftesbury Town councillors have praised North Dorset’s Citizens Advice Bureau and they have awarded the service £4,000 in funding.

Last week’s Town Council meeting heard that the charity’s volunteers provide valuable legal and, increasingly, benefits advice during their weekly Wednesday sessions at Shaftesbury Library.

Shaftesbury Mayor Tim Cook recognises that the CAB’s work in Shaftesbury is important. “When I became a county councillor, I was given some data on the demographic breakdown of Shaftesbury,” explained Tim. “Although small, we have some pockets of deprivation. We are giving the CAB the wherewithal to help those people who are in circumstances that possibly they can get out of, but just don’t know how to.”

Tim added, “The CAB provides a wonderful service to such people. They will take up things on their behalf and help them with rent, employment or debt. They can give them counselling. Sometimes when you sit down and listen to somebody’s problems and help them it’s a major benefit, both to that person and to the wider community.”

Councillors heard that CAB volunteers had advised 150 Shaftesbury residents either in person at the town’s library, on the telephone or at the Tuesday outreach sessions in Father’s House, during the last year.

The Town Council isn’t giving a grant, as such. The funding is part of what is termed a ‘service level agreement’. It is a contract that sets out the Council’s expectations. For example, Shaftesbury Town Council may require statistics on the number of townspeople assisted by the CAB, so they can assess whether their money is making a difference, if they are asked for support in the future. “We can show that we’ve got good value for money for the ratepayer and the CAB can show us that they’ve helped a certain number of people throughout the year,” explained Tim.

Shaftesbury Library

As the debate got underway, it became clear that not all councillors were aware of the CAB sessions in Shaftesbury. Cllr Alex Chase led a call for more publicity of this and other charitable services and initiatives operating in town.

Tim reminded councillors that the CAB’s representatives had attended and spoke at the annual Town Hall meeting in March. “It is only at events like that, that people can actually come and showcase what they do,” said Tim. “That’s one of the major reasons that we like community organisations to come and be proud of what they do and shout about it.”

In a statement, North Dorset CAB Advice Service Manager Elaine Morley said that her team were ‘delighted’ that Shaftesbury Town Council had agreed to the funding. Elaine said the money will, “allow us to continue our community work” adding that the money is, “necessary to meet the increasing demand for our service.”