Dear editor,

So, after 80 years of service to the most vulnerable residents in the borough, Citizens Advice Woking looks set to shut or drastically reduce its support to an online service only.

After 23 years of home visiting and form filling – raising millions of pounds for the most vulnerable and receiving the MBE some years ago – my services and those of all of the team working and volunteering here are apparently no longer needed.

Citizens Advice Woking is a local charity with no national funding but has to affiliate with the national organisation. Over the years it has worked to significantly reduce the amount of council funding requested whilst its workload has increased.

The reason is the bankruptcy of the council and councillors ignoring one part of the Section 114 notice.

“Under legislative requirements, a Section 114 notice stops all but essential spending, with the aim of enabling the council to continue provision of services to its most vulnerable residents.”

What other service in Woking deals with the most vulnerable, and where will they turn?

My suicidal client, who told me how he would kill himself, had a GP appointment set up, was walked to the surgery although, according to the council’s impact assessment, he should contact National Mind.

My client who was nearly murdered as a hitman was hired to kill them, then had a life-threatening illness leaving them in a wheelchair, no use of the right side, struggling to talk. What other agency in Woking would carry out home visits and sort out all the paperwork?

The leader of the council suggested social services, to be told that they refer clients to me.

My client who, after five months in a coma because of Covid, was left unable to walk, lost their job. their house and was then divorced. Who was around to support them to get the housing, services and finances sorted? According to the council, sending out online forms is good enough.

My client who had three disabled children, one of whom was abused by a family member. Who was there to support them, fight for the house, sort out their finances?

My elderly couple who just wanted, at the age of 93, to visit once more where they got married 70 years ago. Who found them a service that provided transport and an escort? And raised £139 a week to help pay for it?

My client whose teenage girls are unable to return to school after Covid because of their mental health. A carer in distress.

Now those same clients are having to be warned that my team may not be able to go on helping them. 

Some of my clients have been with me over 20 years, often housebound, terrified of the world. Where do they turn too for support?

These are people who often have no voice. They don’t fill in questionnaires, many struggle with the written word or do not have English as their first language. We have to speak for them and protect them.

Please, councillors, look again at the Section 114, work out what supports the most vulnerable and help CAW carry on doing that work, giving us a chance to get funding for the work we do.

Ironically, with the closure of Brockhill, who did the council turn to to provide advocacy to the affected residents? Yes, CAW!

Rosemary Johnson MBE

Dear editor,

I feel compelled to write, given the nature of the cuts from Woking Borough Council and the heartless risk of closure of Citizens Advice Woking.

We are an engine driven by about 70 volunteers, far more than the limited number of paid staff. We are a mass of brain power and like-minded souls who want to help the local community. Many of us do other volunteering. Many clients are stunned by the fact I am unpaid.

In the past four months, I have helped people separated from “normal life” operations by the digital divide; no access to computers through any number of reasons – low confidence/lack of money/illiterate/reduced functional ability to learn and understand.

I have supported vulnerable, abused women and guided them through the difficult process of housing/funding/legal support to remove perpetrators from their lives; sifted through paperwork, much of it unopened through fear, to give clarity on financial position and next steps; linked with the Job Centre, GP surgeries, debt collection agencies, utility companies and Woking Borough Council to support Woking’s vulnerable residents; supported people for whom English is not their first language, giving them equal guidance; provided outreach support at Byfleet – many of our residents cannot afford to travel into “the big town”. 

I attended the Woking Debates session in late January which I found very interesting.

One matter which arose was the frankness with which a panel member identified that the council has not been able to determine, yet, what the ongoing costs to the council would be if we, at Citizens Advice, with our volunteer contingent, could not operate as we do now.

How can it be cost effective to lose this group of free dedicated team members?

Rather than cut us off, Woking Borough Council should be celebrating us, shouting from the rooftops what a wonderful organisation they wish to continue to support.

I am one of many who want our local councillors to be brave and make a change to the funding decision.

I would like our councillors to use their voices well and keep the borough supported.

Ellie George