The largest voluntary charity in the State supporting people in poverty has expressed concern about a proposed restructuring of the Government-funded Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS).
MABS, which has more than 50 local offices, has been offering advice to families and individuals for more than two decades on how to deal with problem debt.
The Citizens Information Board, which has statutory responsibility for MABS and the Citizens Information Services, decided on February 15th to restructure the governance arrangements of the services.
On Tuesday, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said the proposed reorganisation of MABS must not result in any diminution or dilution of the valuable services it provided for the many families and individuals the charity supported.
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar told the Dáil last week he had been assured by the board that there would be "no job losses, no closure of services, no change to service delivery locations and no change to the terms and conditions of serving staff during the lifetime of the restructuring programme".
“There will be no disruption to CIS and MABS services for those who use them,” Mr Varadkar said.
National vice-president of SVP Kieran Stafford said accessibility to MABS services locally must be safeguarded.
“Since its formation in 1992, MABS has been working to help people cope with debts and take control of their own finances. With over 25 years of experience, it continues to provide invaluable support and advice to people at a time of great need on a range of debt issues,” he said.
“While it is stated that clients will receive the same services as before there is no guarantee that changes to services will not occur once MABS is reorganised.”
He said there was also “a real concern that volunteers will become disengaged, and local leadership of their service will disappear”.
“Local boards also have a strong organic connection to the local community, including local civil society representatives such as St Vincent de Paul.
“SVP’s involvement is most obvious in the commitment of its members to voluntarily work within the MABS service and the referrals between SVP and MABS of people who need assistance with budgeting,” Mr Stafford added.
The charity said the structural changes under discussion required “careful implementation through a sensitive process”.
“Any realignment/consolidation will need to carefully consider potential implications and how the direct change will impact the services provided for people in need of guidance with debt.”
Mr Varadkar said a more streamlined governance structure would result in “a more targeted use of valuable staff resources, re-directed to increased front-line service delivery, made possible by reduction in the current significant administrative burden associated with maintaining 93 individual companies nationwide”.
“The changes will bring the CIS and MABS organisations more into line with modern public service governance guidelines and requirements where significant State funding is involved.”
This year the Citizens Information Board will receive State funding of €54 million, of which €15 million is allocated to CIS services. A total of €24.6 million is allocated to the MABS network, including €15.4 million to 51 local centres.