Nelson Tasman Citizens Advice Bureau’s volunteers, from left, Jai, manager Hilary Clifton, Jean and Max. Photo: Jessie Johnston.

Advice from finding a car to making jam

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In an age where Google can tell you anything, anywhere, it may be surprising to know that the dedicated volunteers at Nelson Tasman Citizens Advice Bureau are still kept very busy answering questions and handing out helpful information.

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has its roots in war-time England, established to help people cope with the dislocation, trauma and complexity that war brings.

Initially, CAB’s were places people could go to for help in tracing missing relatives in bombed areas or learning about all the new war-time rules and regulations that were put in place at the time, which the general public were expected to know and observe.

When the war ended, the need for the CAB did not diminish, becoming an essential community service where people could learn about their rights and obligations.

Since then the CAB has been replicated in other parts of the world, coming to New Zealand in October 1970.

The Nelson Tasman CAB was established just over 30 years ago and currently has 46 volunteers who, in the year 2016/2017, responded to 3421 enquiries.

“When people started using the internet, there was a lot of talk then about how Citizen’s Advice won’t be needed anymore, people can Google it themselves,” says Nelson Tasman CAB manager Hilary Clifton. “Often now, they’ll ring us having done an initial search, but it’s all a bit random out there so our volunteers are trained in finding the best answer.”

Nelson Tasman volunteers have had all manner of enquiries come in via phone, email and visits to the bureau, from simple requests such as the nearest or cheapest hair salon, through to the process of adoption.

The most common topic last year was conditions of work, followed by consumer law, then relationships, rental housing and citizenship and immigration.

“No question is ever a waste of time and do you know how long we spend on a case?” asks volunteer Max. “As long as it takes.”

Max remembers one of his cases where someone’s car had been crushed, after they’d left it in another’s care.

It had been moved from its original parking space, stolen and torched, before police or council had taken it away to be crushed.

Being a classic car, the man had been more than frustrated, “so we tracked down where it had gone, who had crushed it and where the number plate was,” says Max. “We found the answer, even though it wasn’t a happy ending.”

Jill Kearns has been with Nelson Tasman CAB since 1986, joining after she saw an advertisement asking for volunteers when the local bureau was still in its infancy.

“I just like to see how we can help people. We can’t solve their issue, but we can give them several options,” says Jill.

“They’ll come in or phone up and they’ve got this huge problem, then by the time we’ve talked to them and given them options, the relief is quite amazing to see.”

Jill says, as volunteers, they also learn something new every time they go on duty.

“Somebody once phoned in to ask how to make raspberry jam. She was an immigrant and where she came from they didn’t have berries and she’d never heard of making jam. But not all enquiries are as simple as that.”

Volunteers can only give information based on what they hear, although they all agree that in many cases the information they give out would probably change drastically if they could they hear the other side of the story.

Once an enquiry has been dealt with, it’s then written up, excluding any identifiers, and filed so that the other volunteers can read it and better inform themselves.

No matter what question you may have on your mind, the volunteers at Nelson Tasman CAB are always here to help, so for free assistance or to become a volunteer, give the office a call on 548 2117.