STRUGGLING families looking for help with their debt, housing, job-hunting and benefit claim problems will be able to refer to a new ‘one stop shop’ website as part of a wider assistance scheme.
Twelve local voluntary sector organisations, led by Harrow Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and supported by Harrow Council, have won funding of £313,817 over two years from the Big Lottery Fund to pay for the new service called the Harrow Advice Network.
Jill Harrison, chief executive of Harrow CAB in Station Road, Harrow, said: “We were delighted to lead this bid with Harrow Law Centre and other local organisations.
“Over the next two years we will be working together to help local people cope with the many planned changes to social welfare. We are very grateful to the Big Lottery Fund for their support.”
The website, which will provide not only written advice but an interactive chat window with advisers, is just one component of the network alongside the appointment of one training officer post each at Harrow CAB and at Carramea, which runs the former Community Premises building in Northolt Road, South Harrow, and a part-time post for a specialist welfare rights advisor at Harrow Law Centre at The Wealdstone Centre in High Street, Wealdstone.
Each of the 12 partner organisations will get a small development fund to pay for things like training courses for their own staff and the network’s members will start meeting once a month to share cases and expertise.
Pamela Fitzpatrick, director of Harrow Law Centre, said: “We have seen a significant increase in the numbers of local people needing legal advice due to the impact of changes to the benefit system.
“Yet this increased demand comes at exactly the same time as cuts to legal aid for welfare benefits cases. We are therefore grateful to the Big Lottery as the Transition Fund money will go some way towards helping to mitigate the impact of these changes.”
The voluntary sector organisations who make up Harrow Advice Network besides Harrow CAB, Carremea and Harrow Law Centre are: Age UK Harrow; Harrow Association of Disabled People; Mind In Harrow; Harrow Mencap; Harrow Carers; HASVO (Harrow Association of Somali Voluntary Organisations); Harrow Refugee Forum; Harrow Equalities Centre; Afghan Association Paiwand, and Harrow Women’s Centre.
Harrow Council’s portfolio holder for community and culture, Councillor Nizam Ismail (Independent Labour) said: “It is wonderful news that these voluntary sector organisations have secured this funding.
“This has been a huge joint effort by all the organisations involved and shows how important it is that we all keep working together.”