‘Biggest loss’ for town as advice centre is closed

Wigan Independent Advice Centres manager Eddie Russon

Wigan Independent Advice Centres manager Eddie Russon

A vital service which has helped Wigan resident for decades is closing.

Wigan Independent Advice Centre (WIAC) has been operating in the borough since the early 1990s, offering a welfare rights service to residents as well as invaluable and free advice on casework including benefits applications and changes, but will close its doors on Wednesday.

The centre has been involved in a number of campaigns over the years to help residents avoid debt and was also instrumental in helping people deal with the changes to benefits brought in by the Tory government in the past few years.

This included the huge change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in 2013.

The service was set up in 1993 with funding from the City Challenge, to provide expert advice surgeries and representing residents at benefit appeal tribunals.

But when funding from the challenge dried up, Wigan Council came to the rescue to cover a £30,000 shortfall in 1998.

Since then the service has continued to operate and moved into Wigan Life Centre North when it opened in 2012 so it could work in partnership with Wigan Council and alongside the Citizens Advice Bureau.

As well as running surgeries three times a week at the Life Centre, the staff also ran an advice line and surgeries in each area across the borough.

Coun Ann Rampling, a trustee of the charity, said: “I am totally gutted that the service is shutting. I think it is going to be more than greatly missed.

“We need something of this calibre and the work they have done is absolutely phenomenal. We can never thank them enough.

“There have been just three people running it and to such a high standard. It is Wigan’s biggest loss.

“It wasn’t just about people coming to them for advice but they also supported people them throughout appeals.

“They also held surgeries across the borough.

“The staff are amazing and I want to thank them for the work they have done.

“They have helped a lot of people.

“There is no where else to turn to. It is a real loss.”

As well holding drop in sessions at the Life Centre, the service held surgeries in Leigh, Golborne, Scholes, Marsh Green, Worsley Mesnes, Ashton in Makerfield and Platt Bridge throughout the week.

The advice line will be open on Tuesday for the last time before the service closes on Wednesday.

One resident, who used the service, said: “I would like to thank the Wigan Independent Advice Centre for all their help and advice.

“It will be missed by the old, people needing advice and forms filling in. They are very kind and understanding. A very sad day for all.”

The Evening Post was unable to contact anyone at the centre for comment.