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Citizens Advice Bureau celebrates 20 years

Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Gibraltar’s Citizens Advice Bureau will be celebrating 20 years today, remembering their vital work of their staff as they reach this milestone.

CAB are open to the public to aid with any concern, from how to write a letter and help with filling in forms, to free legal advice, counselling, employment and money advice.

Over the past two decades CAB has become to the point of call for many in the local community and has been able to give a helping hand where possible, also growing its services to meet demand.

Bureau manager Pili Rodriguez, Deputy Manager Ivan Cruz, Chairman Ivan Navas, advisers Sharlene Lima, Michael Recagno, Nancy Goldwin Gomez, admin Kane Sivers and translator Kawtar Ahammed told the Chronicle about the work the Bureau undertakes on a daily basis.

CAB has been able to diversify and meet the needs of the public over the years by introducing a counselling referral system, a legal referral clinic with free appointments with a legal practitioner, and opening up to offer family advice.

“We've been looking at the makeup of the community of Gibraltar trends, the anxieties and the concerns of the community and setting up services to address these services that we felt were needed at the time,” Ms Rodriguez said.

“That's the way we have developed.”

Ms Rodriguez described how people attend CAB and the Bureau then signposts them to the different organisations if they cannot help them.

“We try to alleviate the presenting problem and sometimes I go down Main Street with a spring in my step because I'm happy that I've been able to do something worthwhile for somebody on that particular day,” Ms Rodriguez said.

Mr Cruz joined CAB in 2004 and said the way CAB has grown under Ms Rodriguez has been remarkable.

“One of Pili's motives is that for every practical issue there's an emotional side to the issue,” he said.

“So as a counsellor herself, she introduced the council referral system, for example.”

“Then we've been seeing a lot of separation and divorces rising throughout the years and we have a legal referral clinic, as CAB UK does.”

“But that was simply not good enough for CAB Gibraltar.”

“So Pili went that step ahead and we all became nearly all of us are now accredited mediators, so we can now mediate for free within CAB, which is quite incredible, because not only on divorces, but in employment issues, family breakups.”

“You name it, we do it and it's definitely rewarding.”

The team at CAB can spend hours in mediation working towards an agreed outcome that is best for all sides.

Mr Cruz added that helping people in his job is fulfilling, adding that the Bureau staff tried to be there for the community as much as possible during the pandemic.

Mr Navas became the Chairman of CAB earlier this year with a hands on approach and said the vocational service the Bureau offers is indispensable.

“I want to stress the vocational inputs that they make in the community,” Mr Navas said.

“The nature of how they support is absolutely crucial. The fact that they are a charity and therefore they can deploy their vocational skills to the great benefit of the community.”

Mr Cruz said one of the biggest challenges CAB has seen is the breakdown of families, which has seen growing demand of their services.

He put this down to less family time but also greater financial pressures on parents, which he said CAB has also seen reflected in their money advice clinic.

“You see parents earning quite an average salary, sometimes a good salary, but they cannot make the month because they simply have too many expenses, expenses which sometimes are not necessary,” Mr Cruz said.

“They're just pressured into going into expenses. I mean, I've seen nightmares.”

“In my days, I was happy with my parents taking me to camping. I loved camping. That was my main holiday.”

“Nowadays, kids need to go to Disney, they need to go to the cruise. Parents fall into that trap and they get these absurd loans which they need to be paying back for years for a two week holiday.”

“So they spend five years paying back a loan for two week holidays. Makes no sense.”

Mr Navas added there is a consumer-based society, which is causing issues like this to develop.

Ms Rodriguez said one of the twin aims of CAB is to take on clients concerns and anxieties to a higher level.

“We need to take it to policymakers like ministers and that to let them know that we're having this coming through, and for them to make changes to alleviate the situation of the client,” she said.

“That is the twin aim of CAB and it's equally as important as giving the first point of contact help and advice and signposting them, because over the years we have seen our intervention with policymakers make changes to policies that have helped clients along the way.”

One of the social policies CAB is championing is the need for shelter for men.

Ms Rodriguez said CAB has helped divorced women for pension rights, and travel insurance for over 80s.

CAB staff Sharlene Lima, Michael Recagno, Nancy Goldwin Gomez, Kane Sivers and Kawtar Ahammed described some of their daily work, from updating the websites and social media, to the advice work.

Ms Lima said their work could be anything from advising someone where to buy a stamp for a letter, filling out forms or supplying someone with a lawyer.

“Sometimes they come, they think they don't need the lawyer and they do,” Ms Lima said.

“Sometimes they come thinking that they need legal advice. And if they don't, we tackle it in different ways... We never know what's going to come through.”

She added CAB can see around 40 clients in a week, and Ms Goldwin Gomez deals with the bulk of the emails requests for advice.

“We help with CVS, people that want to get back into employment, and the accounting referral system,” Ms Goldwin Gomez said.

“It's been up and running 2004. Basically we get referrals from everywhere, like GHA, schools, youth, MoD, a lot of organisations and charities, and we filter them to who we might know best suited for them.”

They described how fulfilling the job can be, but also the frustration in not being able to help in a specific area.

“Sometimes is frustrating as well, when you want to help someone so much and there's only so much you can do,” Ms Lima said.

Mr Sivers works as the receptionist administrator and has been with CAB since 2007, and Ms Ahammed aids with Arabic translations.

Both have found their job with CAB fulfilling, with all the staff looking forward to marking 20 years today at a conference in Central Hall.

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