AN advice charity bracing itself for a surge in people plunged into debt by the pandemic has been boosted by a Wiltshire Community Foundation grant.

Wiltshire Citizens Advice Bureau has been awarded £21,900 from the community foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund, which has now raised more than £950,000 and distributed more than £600,000 to 167 groups.

The grant will help fund a new member of staff to bolster the charity when furlough changes for more than 70,000 people in Wiltshire next month and more firms are faced with having to make staff redundant.

Chief executive Suzanne Wigmore said the service, which has offices in Devizes, Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury, expects to see people unexpectedly facing mounting bills and mortgage arrears when their jobs vanish.

“We are going to be seeing a new client group in the coming months,” she said. “We’ve had more than 100,000 people in Wiltshire who have either been furloughed, made a new claim for Universal Credit or been supported by the government’s self-employed scheme and a lot of them are in the ‘we never thought it would happen to us’ group.

“It will include people who have been working in hospitality, in shops or on zero hours contracts, and also those who have been on a high income but also have high outgoings to match it.”

The charity has 57 paid staff, ten of them part-time, and around 100 volunteer advisors. With its offices closed, the service has switched to online and phone help. The new full-time member of staff will be joining at just the right time, said Mrs Wigmore.

The CAB, which deals with 800 cases a week, is expecting to see more young people who have lost their jobs in hospitality or retail. “The new group are likely to be quite young and digitally inclined so it is easy to advise them because they able to email and use the phone but most of them won’t know anything about Job Centres or Universal Credit, that will be a shock to them. They have the capacity to help themselves but it’s knowing where to turn,” said Mrs Wigmore.

She said getting to people quickly before their debts spiral out of control is vital.

“This grant is going to make a massive difference to people who never thought they would find themselves in this position.”