The new boss of Citizens Advice in Luton has one message for those in trouble - the sooner you get to us the sooner we can help.
New chief executive Mick Dillon says personal debt and housing are some of the major issues affecting the town.
But he praised staff and volunteers at the charity who he says are transforming the lives of 22,000 local people who will turn up this year.
He said: “Our staff and volunteers make an astonishing difference, every second of every day, taking every challenge and enquiry in their stride.”
Some of the major issues facing local people include personal debt and housing issues. And Mick - who’s been in office six months - is keen to get the message across to the thousands who flock to the charity’s New Bedford Road office every year - to engage with his teams much earlier.
He explains: “We’re keen to inform and advise people about what to expect and actions to take. This is not about exclusively writing debt off or criticising landlords; it’s about engaging, communicating and encouraging better relationships, whether you’re a landlords, tenant and a consumer.
“People often come to us in crisis, needing immediate support, when they’re about to be evicted from their property or bailiffs are banging on their door. “We want to encourage everybody to engage with their local Citizens Advice office in a timely fashion so we can help take the pressure off, whether it’s emotional, financial, domestic or commercial issues, we’re help to assist”.
The number of people turning to CAL for support has increased 15 percent year on year, and many come with multiple issues – four or five issues per individual is not uncommon.
“They cover the whole spectrum,” Mick says. “From welfare benefits, debt, housing, immigration and investment advice through to hate crimes and Modern Day Slavery. We treat everyone with dignity and respect, giving them information, advice and hopefully control over their situation.”
To complement their work, they utilise a series of local solicitors, who work on a “pro bono” basis, giving specialist initial free advice around topics such as family matters, employment and housing issues.
Mick, 50, who lives in Houghton Regis, has a rare hereditary neurological condition, spinal muscular atrophy, is a registered architect, and ran The Disability Resource Centre for 15 years. As a wheelchair-user, Mick is an expert on disability and charity issues, built on years of knowledge and personal experience. He’s also passionate about equality and giving people choice over matters that are important to them and that allow people to realise their full potential.
To become part of the team as a volunteer at Citizens Advice Luton, call 01582 540454.