Northern Ireland

NI's Citizens Advice bureaux to rebrand after HQ closure

The former regional headquarters of Citizens Advice in NI has been closed Image copyright Google Maps
Image caption Citizens Advice Northern Ireland's regional headquarters in south Belfast closed in June

Northern Ireland's network of Citizens Advice bureaux are facing a rebrand after their regional headquarters went into administration earlier this year.

The HQ closed in June and its sister organisation in Great Britain declined to take on its "financial liabilities".

Northern Ireland has 13 bureaux which are all independently-run charities.

They have been offered membership of a similar organisation, Advice NI, which would allow them to continue to provide the same functions under a new name.

'Opportunity'

Advice NI's Chief Executive Bob Stronge told BBC News NI the public would notice very little difference in services when the changeover is complete.

"The biggest change will be the sign above the door," he said.

Mr Stronge added that his charity has already been working with Citizens Advice staff over the summer, and their "case management system" is already in place in several bureaux.

At least one of the 13 bureaux has welcomed the rebrand as an "opportunity".

However, Citizens Advice's sister charity in England and Wales has expressed regret that their brand will "disappear" in Northern Ireland.

Image caption Bob Stronge from Advice NI said biggest change will be the door sign

The UK-wide organisation was set up as network of advice offices, which are all financially independent charities, but which require central support from a regional HQ.

Northern Ireland's regional HQ in Belfast's Donegall Pass, provided administrative support, IT services and training, but got into financial difficulty earlier this year.

It went into administration in June and the building closed.

'Regret'

Stormont's Department for Communities held talks with other advice providers in a bid to secure the long-term future of the bureaux and approached Citizens Advice England and Wales.

However, the charity said it was unable to "take on financial liabilities that may result from the insolvency of Citizens Advice Northern Ireland".

Speaking to the Irish News, its spokeswoman Julia Gillies-Wilkes said: "We have worked extremely hard to find a solution and it is with regret that the Citizens Advice brand will no longer operate on high streets in Northern Ireland."

The branding will be withdrawn in January 2019 due to the absence of a functioning regional HQ.

The bureaux have two months to decide if they want to take up Advice NI's invitation, and Mr Stronge said several have already made membership inquiries.

'Re-brand'

Service Manager Pat Colton has worked for Citizens Advice Belfast for 20 years and told BBC News NI they were viewing it as a chance to "grow and expand".

"The closure of the regional support body, Citizens Advice NI, has not affected the delivery of advice services," he said.

"We have existed in Belfast for 55 years and we will continue to provide advice and volunteering opportunities to all citizens, albeit with a new name for our services in Belfast.

"The closure has presented us with an opportunity to re-brand and continue to deliver high quality advice services out of our nine sites across the city with the support of Department for Communities and Belfast City Council in addition to other funders."

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities (DfC) told BBC News NI that it had engaged in "lengthy discussions with Citizens Advice England and Wales" about the issue.

Of the closure, they said: "While this is regrettable, the department is working with affected frontline advice offices to ensure that there is no disruption to the valuable advice services they provide to people and that business as usual continues.

"These offices will continue to provide quality advice services to people in their communities. Advice NI provides alternative appropriate membership support which the offices can avail of.

"In terms of support the department has already put in place arrangements with these frontline advice offices. These arrangements include the provision of a modern IT service, training for frontline staff and volunteers on the new IT system and additional funding totalling £32,000.

"The department will provide further funding to assist with costs associated with rebranding such as signage," added the DfC spokesperson.

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