Ssshhhh…don't tell anyone. There's a consultation happening about £510,000 cuts to Salford Council's Welfare Rights and Debt Advice service. It ends this Friday 28th June at 4pm. But the Council hasn't been over keen on telling anyone – not least those who are most likely to need help with things like the Bedroom Tax, Disability Living Allowance, rent rises and council tax benefit cuts.
This morning, at the Council's Unity House office that deals with things like Council Tax and Unemployment Benefits, there was absolutely nothing to indicate that there's a consultation going on, and that people can express their views. Neither does the Salford Star know of any paper copies of the consultation being circulated.
The only thing on show at the Council Tax office this morning was a booklet about a completely different consultation on `Changes to Adult Social Care'. As far as the future of the Welfare Rights and Debt Advice goes, there was zilch.
Salford Council is planning to, what it calls, "improve the customer journey" by slashing £160,000 off the Welfare Rights budget this year, while axing a further £350,000 following a "review" of the service.
It's aimed at directing people more towards website and online `self help' – even though 68% of Salford people living in social housing do not have access to computers!
Indeed, the only reference we can find to the consultation is on the Council's website, where it asks questions like "Is it practical for you to go online to get information and help?"
But 68% of those most likely to need the Welfare Rights and Debt Advice service don't have the net and can't answer, so it's all a bit of a sham really.
The six question `consultation' merely asks about buildings where advice can be offered, whether people feel comfortable getting advice by phone or online; where they normally get help and `Are there specific groups that we should be talking to?' - to which an obvious answer might be `Yes – those who haven't got the internet!'
In the consultation, there are no questions about the benefits of face-to-face specialist advice from experts. Indeed, the advice model that Stockport Council uses was rejected by Salford Council as it "relies much more on face to face provision and whilst this has advantages, it is one of the reasons for increased cost."
What is behind this restructure of the Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service is not, we believe, to "improve the customer journey" – unless that `journey' is up the creek with no paddle.
This `review' is screaming that it's about cutting costs – just as more people than ever need expert advice from a department that has proved itself over and over again in helping people get benefits they are entitled to, or to stave off evictions due to debts (see here for details).
How can Salford Council "improve the customer journey" when it's making cuts of £510,000 to the service? Answers on a consultation response before Friday 4pm…
For full details of what Salford Council is proposing for its Welfare Rights and Debts Advice Service see previous Salford Star article – click here
To fill in Salford Council's Consultation on the future of its Welfare Rights and Debts Advice Service – click here