Budget advice forced to close

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Ashburton Budget Advisory Service will close at the end of this month, after 40 years.

Some budgeting service providers around New Zealand have been advised by the Ministry of Social Development their contracts are not being renewed, leaving Ashburton staff without jobs. The ministry is getting a new provider for Mid Canterbury as it consolidates services nationwide.

Ashburton Budget Advisory Service has 2.5 staff in Ashburton, a team of trained volunteers and manages one part timer covering Selwyn.

This may be cut down as low as 1.5 staff members for the whole of Mid Canterbury and Selwyn.

Ashburton community advocates are concerned as the service stops taking on new clients and the cost of living crisis bites.

‘‘We have a big concern about the unknowns at this stage, what the budgeting services will look like, how they will engage with the other services,’’ said Anglican Advocacy co- ordinator Warren James.

‘‘It’s frustrating not knowing what is happening with the service, who to refer clients to or even who to contact going forward,’’ said St Vincent De Paul Society conference president Evans Chibanguza.

The Ashburton Budget Advisory Service provider is Presbyterian Support Upper South Island. Ashburton Hakatere manager Sue Hutchinson said it was unfortunate Presbyterian Support could no longer offer the service. She was proud of staff who had gone ‘‘over and above’’ for their clients.

Sue Hutchinson.

‘‘We have been able to provide a wrap around service to clients, linking clients with other services we provide, which has been invaluable and a stand-out feature of what we have been doing,’’ Hutchinson said. Anglican Advocacy co-ordinator Warren James said his organisation regularly referred people to Ashburton Budget Advisory Service.

He praised the staff’s experience and expertise.

‘‘Presbyterian Support had significant relationships with other agencies in the district and this means we work together to support clients,’’ James said.

‘‘The staff at budget advice knew some of the clients we referred and were able to speed up getting services and support for them,’’ he said.

‘‘They not only provided budgeting advice but were very good at negotiating with debtors, as well as helping people get no interest, no fee loans to assist them to get out of debt.’’

Warren James.

St Vincent De Paul Society conference president Evans Chibanguza said on average the society referred two to three people a month to the service.

‘‘They have been great at supporting clients with not only budgets but also things like working with MSD. We have also been able to help some of their clients with a food parcel or two or paying off a debt to help them get on top of debt and work to get back on top of things,’’ Chibanguza said.

MSD safe strong families and communities acting general manager Karin Dalgleish reassured Mid Cantabrians the ministry would continue to fund services to help people improve their financial wellbeing and get control of their finances.

‘‘Starting from 1 July we expect to fund about 16 full-time staff positions in Canterbury, including the equivalent of one-and-a-half full-time staff members across Ashburton and Selwyn to work with people in need. We are currently finalising new contracts, including with the successful provider,’’ Dalgleish said.

‘‘Current providers were granted contracts in 2016, and these contracts have since been renewed annually. With current contracts set to expire on 30 June, 2024, it was a good time to go back to the market.’’

MSD had a responsibility to regularly give potential providers an opportunity to tender for government-funded services, as new providers came on to the scene, and what providers were offering may have changed.

Presbyterian Support Upper South Island trading as Ashburton Budget Advisory Service in Ashburton had successfully applied in the 2016 tender, and were originally funded $84,564.24 per year. The organisation had received all contract extensions and funding increases since then, taking this year’s funding to $275,698.50.

More than 200 applications were received across New Zealand to provide budgeting services going forward. However, there would be a reduction in the number of providers from July 1 as MSD consolidated services.

‘‘We acknowledge there will be disappointment for those who were not offered a contract,’’ Dalgleish said.