MORE than 100 councillors and residents have signed an open letter to MPs demanding the government save debt advice services.

The letter, penned by Bury councillor Kevin Peel and addressed to all Bolton and Bury MPs, highlights several issues that cutting the service could present, the primary concern being that funding for face-to-face meetings is to be cut by “more than 50 per cent”.

The proposed cuts come at a time when demands for such services are increasing. Food and fuel prices are on the rise, while people’s pay packets are not matching inflation.

In 2021, Citizens Advice Bury and Bolton (CABB) provided advice and assistance for over 4,000 debt problems, with the number of clients from April to October increasing at a rate of more than 15 per cent. The government guarded against evictions and bailiffs during the pandemic. While this allowed some time to get their affairs in order, for others it allowed debts to build up.

Richard Wilkinson, CABB chief executive, said: “What we’re seeing is a tsunami of demand for our services, pent up from the pandemic.”

The letter also addresses funding inequality, claiming services in the south receive £3m more. And the way the government procures such services, creating job insecurity, has also been questioned. A decision on this has been delayed by six months.

But Cllr Peel said: “That still doesn’t provide-long term security – we want at least 12 months. Currently we’re in a stay of execution. We want the government to commit to no loss of face-to-face services and to redress the funding imbalance.”

He is now looking for Bolton and Bury’s MPs to step in and take the matter further. Only around 25 per cent of all appointments in 2021 were face-to-face.

Mr Wilkinson added: “[Debt] can affect people’s mental health so much they are terrified to open mail. People have come to us with a plastic bag of unopened mail and the first thing we do is open the bag, sort through and prioritise it. You can’t do that over the phone.

“People need trust and confidence and to be able to look someone in the eye. A relationship is really important.”