East Enders’ debts to spiral out of control, closing debt centre warns

MORE vulnurable East Enders will see their debts spiral out of control when a community centre shuts its key debt advice service next month, it has warned.

Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel is being forced to end face to face sessions as a result of the government withdrawing all funding for the programme.

The personalised service currently offered will soon end, to be replaced by waiting times of six weeks and far less time for legal advisors to spend with those facing serious financial difficulties.

Around 500 people a year in Tower Hamlets currently receive specialist advice at three centres.

Tobias Stapf, the programme’s project manager, fears the waits will mean many will have their homes repossessed before they can get support.

He said: “We currently target advice to people who don’t have the capacity to help themselves or have a very complex case. The service we will be left with will be self-help focused and not specialist.

“It will create more costs in the end to local authorities and creditors. The human cost like anxiety and depression will feed through to the health services and the council.”

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Staff at Toynbee Hall are also arguing that with unemployment on the up, benefits changing drastically and interests rates looking likely to rise, more people than ever will need advice.

The scheme has been funded for the last five years by the government’s Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF).

It will end on March 31.

Last year, the government’s own National Audit Office said the service provided “value for money” because it saves the courts, NHS, housing providers and creditors significant sums.

Toynbee Hall receives separate funding from Tower Hamlets Council and London Councils but is expecting a total fall in its budget of 20 per cent from April.

A reduced debt advice service will still run at the centre, in Commercial Street, including drop-in sessions on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings.

Call 020 7392 2953 for information.

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