THOUSANDS of vulnerable people could suffer when a much-used support centre closes next year.

Leytonstone Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) supports more than 4,000 people in Waltham Forest who are in a spiral of debt and ensures people with poor mental or physical health can access the benefits they need, but will close in March 2013 because two-thirds of its funding has been cut.

The CAB in High Road relies on an annual contract of £200,000 with government quango Legal Services Commission to provide legal aid but this will be abolished from April 2013, meaning the centre has no choice but to close as it cannot survive on its £100,000 contract with Waltham Forest Council alone.

Kay Butt, 51, of Cheney Road, in Walthamstow, uses the service for debt advice and said the closure will reduce access for people like her.

She is in constant pain from Fibromyalgia, and cannot wait at the Walthamstow CAB, where she said people are seen only by appointment.

She said: "I always go there because it has an open door policy and I'm seen immediately. It's a big lifeline for people like me.

"Things are getting worse for us, they're taking everything away. It means there will be more people on the poverty line and more homeless because many people can't live without this help."

Manager of the Leytonstone CAB, Andy Munton, said: "The government is destroying a good service. It's devastating. We're desperately trying to get more money in and are trying to find alternative places we could run some services after closure."

Chair of the Trustee Board of Waltham Forest CAB, Jude Lobendhan, said: "We are worried that large numbers of vulnerable clients will have nowhere to turn and serious cases of unmanageable debt, refusal of benefits and unfair dismissal will simply get worse.

"Trustees and staff are therefore looking at other ways of providing these specialist services. We are working hard to bring in new funding and are also working closely with the London Borough of Waltham Forest to see if existing council funding can be used more flexibly to allow us to meet the continuing need for such advice from both our Walthamstow office and outreach sessions in the Leytonstone area."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The wide-ranging availability of legal aid can lead people to assume legal action is their only option, even where early practical advice could be of more help to them and avoid them needing a lawyer at all.

"That is why the government has already committed £60m to support the provision of general advice by the not for profit sector over the next three years. An additional £3.5m has been awarded to 45 Citizens Advice Bureaux and £1.6m awarded to 17 Law Centres through the transition fund.

"We thought carefully about which areas should be removed from Legal Aid and as a result we will continue to spend approximately £50m on Legal Aid for the social welfare law categories which will fund community care and high priority debt and housing cases."

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