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Our service changed but the important things remain: Maureen Northmore

When I started to volunteer at Citizens Advice in 1984 (38 years ago!) the world was a very different place.

Maureen Northmore reflects on decades of money advice service at Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell.

Jobs were more stable and often ‘for life’. Credit cards were available but cash and cheques were the main methods of payment. Personal debt was limited. Students did not have to pay tuition fees and most did not have to pay living costs. BT was privatised that year but the other utilities had not been privatised. There were no mobile phones and personal computer usage was in its infancy.

Citizens Advice 1984-syle: a typewriter and phones

Enquiries to the office reflected the conditions of that time and were rarely complex. We were a small but very busy team answering queries mainly on the phone. We had no budget and the manager and two deputies were paid a token honorarium. The Town Hall provided our accommodation and stationery; our only equipment was a typewriter and several phones.

At that time, training was becoming more formalised and I was required to attend a weekly training session in Guildford for eight weeks. Within a year, I became an area training co-ordinator at Guildford. This involved supporting new trainees and visiting them at their offices in Surrey. It was interesting to experience the range of offices which varied from those with excellent facilities to one where the interview room was no more than a cupboard.

In 1990 everything changed

Epsom & Ewell Council awarded CAEE a grant which enabled a part-time paid manager and deputy. The office soon became overwhelmed with inquiries associated with the downturn in the economy, very high interest rates, the introduction of the Poll Tax, job redundancies. Debt was a particular problem. Additional funding enabled the appointment of a part-time Money Advice coordinator which I was pleased to take on.  Later I helped establish the North Surrey Money Advice Group.

With financial problems escalating it was not long before clients came to the office seeking help for a possession hearing due the same day at the County Court. We developed a good relationship with the Court and set up a regular Court Desk on possession days where we were permitted to support clients. Sadly in 2010 Epsom County Court closed despite representation from CAEE and other interested parties. A small team continued to help clients at Reigate County Court until that was also closed.

Still the only place for help whatever the problem

CAEE today bears no comparison with when I started. Debt advice, which is my speciality, is now regulated. We are answerable to the Financial Conduct Authority and debt advisers are required to take and pass an in-depth training programme. But importantly CAEE continues to be the only place people can obtain the help they need on any issue.

In particular, I remember an elderly client who sought advice from CAEE regarding his benefits. In discussion he revealed that he was living in appalling conditions in a house of multiple occupation; he had moved there when he found himself homeless following the death of his landlady who he had lodged with for many years. I was able to help this client apply for the appropriate benefits and took him to the Council Office where the Housing Officers helped rehouse him. He had mentioned that he had served in the armed forces so I contacted the British Legion who helped him furnish his new house. He was absolutely delighted with the outcome.

A lovely place to work

It has been very satisfying to assist so many clients in the borough over the years. At the same time I am pleased to have been able to pass on my knowledge to other advisers at CAEE. Most of all, it has been a lovely place to work with everyone part of a supportive and friendly team.

Volunteering with Citizens Advice here in Epsom & Ewell can, as Maureen demonstrates, be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. If you want to give something back to the community, gain new skills and have a few hours to spare, please get in touch with our friendly team: More information here

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