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There's more to the CAB than meets the eye

by Ash Kuloo, CAS Head of Network Services

This article was originally published in the Herald on 28 March 2022.. 

I recently started working for Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), joining a team that provides support to the network of 59 Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs) across the country.

I have to admit I was blown away by the diverse services provided by CABs and now I know more about those services, I thought it might be interesting to write about what I’ve learned. Having said that a lifetime ago I volunteered in a CAB in my hometown, Huddersfield – but things have changed and moved on since then.

A lot of people think CABs are part of the Government or the Council. But no, each CAB is an independent local charity that is volunteer-led and responds to meet the needs of local communities. Our CABs each deliver their service with committed staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to support people.

Local CABs are integral to their local communities. Inequality magnifies existing poverty and reduces life chances for people, and CABs play a vital role in building community wealth, in terms of both finances and well-being. 

But over and above the basic day-to-day advice you get from your local CAB, the network also delivers additional services that are less well known. For example, we run projects aimed at specific groups of people, such as veterans or those serving in our armed forces, people claiming Universal Credit for the first time, people affected by gambling and EU Citizens living in Scotland.

CAS is the collective support body of this network, delivering a range of support services to the 59 CABs. We have a whole team here who constantly update our advice to make sure it is rigorous and correct. This central advice resource is used by all of our CABs, and also on our public advice website.

CAS also uses the information we gain through providing advice to inform policymakers about the impact of public policies – and so influence positive changes. For example, the new Adult Disability Payment has been heavily influenced by us highlighting the problems of the system it replaces. We also make people aware of their rights, and of actions they can take for themselves to exercise them.

The final thing I wasn’t aware of was the sheer scale of work being done. Every month the Scottish CAB network helps around 20,000 people directly, with another 200,000 people checking our online advice. Last year we unlocked a total of £147 million for our clients, through things like social security payments, with-held wages and debt reductions. This work is life-changing and has never been more needed. Not all CAB work has financial impact, but all types of support have beneficial outcomes.  

Because the next few months and years to come are going to be tough. Especially for low-income households but actually for all of us to a greater or lesser degree. So I thought it would be good to remind people that the Citizens Advice network is here to help. Not just with the basic advice but with all these additional services too. 

It’s a privilege to be part of such a great charity. For more than 80 years the CAB network have been helping people who need our free, confidential and non-judgemental support. If that includes you, we’re here. Use us.