Auckland Council’s revised draft 2023/2024 budget is currently threatening the survival of the Auckland Citizens Advice Bureau. Sylvia Hunt, Chairperson of Auckland Citizens Advice Bureau, describes how devastating this would be and the campaign to save them.

Five years ago I bumped into someone who talked with me about their volunteer work with Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). They had experienced the first-rate training to be a volunteer who could field enquiries from the public about a wide range of queries and problems – across legal rights, housing and tenancy, government processes, neighbour disputes, insurance, financial planning, relationship issues, consumer protection, and more. 

This one meeting led me to find out more and I joined the CAB. Once there I saw for myself the incredible value of its services. 

It can be easy to assume everyone has easy access to the information we need to live well. But I saw how hard it is for people to find out information if they don’t have access or if they’re not comfortable online; if they’re not used to navigating formal processes; if they lack confidence in communicating; or if they just don’t know who to ask.  

As more organisation services have moved online, the demand for the CAB face to face help has also been rising.

For any of us it can be a barrier to find out how to do something we’ve never done! We’re all from different backgrounds and life experiences, and knowing where to go when facing a new challenge can be difficult. We sometimes don’t even know what questions to ask when we face a problem.

Two people are looking at a brochure, a sign above says 'welcome'

For many, a CAB is the first port of call. CABs often fill in the gaps when things that are meant to happen, don’t happen. If we all lived in equality, without poverty, in perfect health and harmony, we wouldn’t need a CAB. 

I’ve seen the difference the CAB volunteers make in people’s lives. One of the most touching moments was a message from someone who we helped gain ID documentation. They said, ‘You’ve given me my life back’.  

It makes a difference when people show kindness and care for others, and for the world we live in. 

The extreme weather events, pandemics, and the cost of living help us realise how essential it is to have support around us when we need it. CAB assistance provided during the recent severe weather has included access to emergency accommodation, food relief, Civil Defence support payments, and advice about damage to property.  

At this time people naturally help each other and the CAB volunteers help that to happen. The CAB network enables volunteering – we provide a hub of community connection and contribution for hundreds of volunteers who share their skills, time and aroha.

The 32 CAB offices around the Auckland region are grassroots hubs. They’re accessible for everyone to ask about basic to complex issues. They’re places we don’t need an appointment, or to pay for someone’s time. 

When we have the information and feel secure, we can live the lives we’re entitled to lead. We are empowered as citizens and can participate fully as citizens in a well-functioning democracy. 

I see the CAB offices enabling community empowerment by giving people independent info and advice about their rights and how to find a way forward when they feel stuck.

CAB Auckland helps tens of thousands of individuals every year. When we zoom out and look at the bigger picture, we can see the CAB network is part of the fabric of the city, and the country. When unnoticed it is taken for granted. 

Save Auckland Citizens Advice

CAB has no guaranteed funding – we must seek to renew the funding from Government and councils every few years. 

Part of my role over the last five years has been to maintain our good relationship with the Council. In 2021 we confirmed the latest three years of funding that is helping keep the doors open and lights on in the 32 offices across the region. 

Auckland Council is reviewing its annual budget right now and to cut expenditure is proposing to withdraw the $2 million funding CAB Auckland relies on to run. 

After 50 years of existence this could mean the end of the CABs community service in Auckland. 

It’s my belief the CAB services are helping the Council meet its goals for its thriving communities action plan. The Auckland CABs are run by 900 trained volunteers who help around 160,000 Aucklanders every year. Because of this the funding that allows this to happen allows a whole lot of donated time to be given.

If passed the new budget would do lasting damage to the city’s social infrastructure. Instead of fracturing support networks we need to strengthen them. To rebuild after the cyclone and flooding disasters we need to empower citizens to look after themselves and help each other. 

Take action 

We’ve launched a campaign to save the Auckland Citizens’ Advice Bureaus. You can join by signing the petition to Save Auckland CABs (online, or in person at your local CAB).  

You can also take the chance to have your voice heard in the consultation. Make a submission to Auckland Council when the consultation opens. Consultation on the draft budget will go to 28 March.

Flooding, cyclones, are likely to become more common, more intense. This will stress not just physical infrastructure, but also our social infrastructure. When people can help each other, people are knitted together, and we have community resilience.

Before google there was CAB – and a CAB is still important for those of us struggling to find the right answer with google. And hopefully CAB will still be around after google. 

Find out more at Save Auckland CABs.