An advice centre in Derry with a catchment area of 9,000 people could now be forced to close after indications its funding is to be slashed for the coming year.
The Galliagh Community Development Group have said that their funding looks set to be cut by more than 50% to less than £13,000, making it impossible to meet the running costs of the Advice Centre and pay its last remaining staff member.
The allocation of the advice services funding for the coming year from the council will see Galliagh’s funding dropped dramatically from £31,252 in the current 2014/15 year, despite its Gold status rating.
There are five other advice services in the new Derry City & Strabane District Council area, with funding for each next year expected to vary from around £18,000 to £317,000, according to government documents.
The group said this was confirmed at a recent meeting.
NorthWest Advice Services in Galliagh deals with around 1,000 client contacts a year, and was already struggling to cope with a funding gap which meant that one full-time post had to be scrapped and the other advice worker taking a salary hit, but still works full-time on a part-time salary.
A spokesperson for the Galliagh Group said they were stunned.
“This centre is just getting drastically hit at every opportunity,” they said.
“It’s a big reduction. We are waiting for the contracts coming out at the minute.
“This is one of the most deprived areas of the north and we are still getting hit.
“They are giving less than £13,000 and that is what it is going to take to run the bills, heating, phones, insurance, supplies, all the wee different parts. That is what you are up against.
“It wouldn’t pay even a part-time wage and that is before the bills come out.”
Phone bills alone for the service cost in the region of £4,000 a year.
The Advice Service, which is based at Fergleen Park in the estate, delivers benefits advice, and has broadened this out to include advice on employment, housing and consumer advice.
The spokesperson said: “There is different things you are actually seeing. The welfare reform is one of the biggest changes going. People don’t understand what’s going on. It is changing that rapidly and this year you are going to see some difference in Disability Living Allowance and introduction of Universal Credit, where you are going to see an influx of a lot more people because of all the other benefits being abolished basically.
“You need these services in deprived areas. You are also dealing with a lot of people in part-time work being boxed into different hours, zero contracts. There is lots of stuff you are dealing with.
“People come with one issue to start with and you might end up with two or three issues. We give them the options, and every person is different.
“You are also getting to a stage where you are signposting people onwards to more specialist services, health services, different places. You’d be surprised what you actually get through your door. There’s people who come in here with absolutely nothing. They are on their way. Close this down and there is nowhere for them to go.
“You are going to have a lot of people round this area needing help, and we could be closed in weeks if nothing is done.”
A spokesperson for Derry City Council responded to the concerns: “Council in partnership with Department for Social Development has developed a sophisticated and effective process for assessing the funding levels awarded to advice providers in the area to ensure a high quality and efficient service delivery.
“Council operates a Charter Mark to ensure delivery of a quality service and we are satisfied that the systems operated by Derry City Council to award funding to service providers ensures the most efficient delivery at local level.
“The Council is happy to meet with representatives from Galliagh Advice Services group to discuss any issues they may have directly.”