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Answering tricky queries

Citizens Advice Bureau chairwoman Westley Ensor. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

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In this age of Google and smartphones, it seems like information is always just a click away.

But before the digital age, many people turned to their Citizens Advice Bureau for help with everything from finding a lawyer or help with consumer problems, to joining a sports club.

For the past 44 years, no question has been too big or too small for Wairarapa’s CAB, now based on Masterton’s Perry St, with 28 volunteers providing the service.

Chairwoman Westley Ensor said the bureau was there to ensure people did not suffer from not knowing their rights.

While they get an average of 148 inquiries a month, Westley said: “It’s funny, I think it has been around for so long people, forget we are there,” she said.

Wairarapa’s CAB received 1784 inquiries for the financial year ending July this year, according the figures released at its annual general meeting last Wednesday.

The most popular category was legal, 345, and community-based inquiries, 338, followed by consumer, 251 and family/personal, 205.

These figures were slightly down on the previous financial year which received 1824 inquiries.

Nationally last year, CAB volunteers nationally received over 520,000 inquiries.

The Wairarapa bureau receives $15,150 in grants from a variety of community organisations and councils.

Westley said people would typically come into the bureau with an issue wanting to get more direction on how to find information.

Common topics were tenancy issues and employment inquiries – mainly people wanting to understand their rights, she said.

“It could be a parent who is concerned about their daughter’s relationship, so they come in and ask what services are available.

“Most times there is something concerning them in their lives.”

Sometimes it is someone new to town wanting to know what sports clubs and groups there are to join.

Most inquiries are received by phone, but last year it recorded a high number of walk-in inquiries, 484.

The highest number of inquiries came from Masterton residents last year totalling 1104, though there were also inquiries from residents of Carterton, 83, Featherston, 46, and Martinborough and Greytown, 27 for each.

Westley has been volunteering at the bureau for 14 years and has been re-elected as chairwoman for the fifth year.

Rather than a volunteer becoming an expert in each field, Westley said it was more about knowing where to look for the information.

“We do use Google but that’s probably the last resort.”

When the CAB website came in, it was said that volunteers would not be needed, which was not the case, Westley said.

The volunteers are trained to listen and provide advice or information on any issue that comes their way.

“We are all volunteers wanting to help people.”.

The services are confidential, free, and no appointments necessary.

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