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'Aggressive' banks in the firing line as survey reveals CAB concerns for 2011

Staff from Scotland’s Citizens Advice Bureaux anticipate that financial problems will continue to plague Scottish communities in 2011. They have also singled out banks for particular criticism for their failure to help people in nee

A special survey, carried out over the last few weeks, reveals that two thirds of Scottish CAB workers think 2011 will see huge numbers of people struggling to cope with changes to the benefits system, while over 40% were concerned that debt would continue to be a major issue.

The survey, conducted by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), also reveals anger among advisers about the failure of the major banks and the government to help people. Over 80% felt that banks and other lenders were making things worse for those who are struggling, with some condemning the banks as ‘aggressive’ and ‘cavalier.’ 68% said changes to the benefits system were also causing huge problems for sick, disabled and unemployed people.

Revealing the survey results (see below), CAS Chief Executive Lucy McTernan said,

“This survey shows that Scotland’s CAB staff believe the impact of the recession will continue to blight vulnerable people throughout 2011, and that neither the banks nor the government are doing enough to help.

“CAB workers are right at the sharp end of what’s going on in our communities. Last year the Scottish CAB dealt with over half a million new cases - that’s one for every 5 households in Scotland. They constantly see real people with real problems, so they have a unique insight into the pressures that affect peoples’ lives, day after day. They know what they are talking about, and their concerns should be taken very seriously.

“We have argued in the last few years that the pace of the government’s welfare reforms is really hurting the most vulnerable people, and we also know that debt has been a growing issue for some time. We intend to step up our campaigning on both of these issues in 2011, to make sure that politicians of all parties understand the level of suffering out there.

“So while the recession may technically be over, the harsh truth is that its ongoing impact is still being felt by people in every street, in every village, town and city in Scotland, and will be for some time to come. CAB advisers know that because they see it every single day.”

The survey was carried out over the autumn and winter of 2010. 163 members of CAB staff responded to the survey, representing between them 55 of Scotland’s 83 CABs.

When asked which organisations caused most problems for people in need, 81% identified banks and other creditors as the major offenders – with specific comments including word like ‘aggressive’, ‘cavalier’ and ‘inflexible’. The second biggest agency identified was the Department of Work & Pensions (the government department which runs the Benefits system). Over two thirds of CAB staff expressed concerns about its approach, with the attitude of its medical examiners being described as ‘abrupt’, ‘rude’, ‘appalling’ and ‘unfair’.

The CAB managers in 2 of Scotland’s cities have given their comments on the survey results. Alasdair Christie, Manager of Inverness CAB, said,

“The findings of this survey are certainly a very accurate picture of how our staff feel at the Inverness office. And from my conversations with other CAB staff elsewhere in Scotland I’m not at all surprised by the strength of feeling revealed in the survey.

“We are seeing record numbers of people here seeking advice on financial issues. Some of our longest-serving advisers are saying they have never seen numbers like it. The recession has left lots of people really battered and struggling just to get through the week. And many of them have nowhere else to turn but the CAB.

“The anger revealed in the survey is born of the frustration we feel – not just about the fact that people are suffering and that banks and government are doing so little to help. We are also frustrated that we are being expected to provide more and more of a service for fewer and fewer resources. CABs everywhere will always work to deliver for the clients who need our help. But to do that we really need more support than ever, not cuts to our budgets.”

Vincent Chudy, Manager of Glasgow Central CAB, said,

“I think these results should be seen as a very clear warning signal to the government, the banks and others who are putting pressure on so many vulnerable people. After all, we in the CAB service are the ones who actually see the people who are struggling. We sit across the table from them every day; we look into their eyes, listen to their problems and see what they are going through. We are a lifeline for so many people, and that’s why we feel so strongly about these issues.

“In a typical morning a CAB adviser will see someone who is so deep in debt they have to choose between heating their home or feeding their family, followed by a severely disabled person who has had their claim for benefits rejected because they’ve been found ‘fit for work’ after a brisk five-minute interview which didn’t even ask about their condition.

“Then you’ll perhaps see someone who has worked and paid taxes all their life only to be made redundant and be told they are a benefit cheat, followed by someone whose £1 overdraft has become several hundred pounds because of bank charges they didn’t know about, or someone who is being phoned at work and at home all hours of the day and night by aggressive debt collectors from credit card companies or loan sharks.

“These sorts of cases are routine now in all CABs. And I’m glad this survey is showing the extent of our concerns about what people are going through.”

The full details of the survey responses are re-produced below.