Advice service will survive and may expand to cater for unmet demand

Good advice: DIAL experts are present at Penistone Town Hall every Thursday to offer benefits guidance
Good advice: DIAL experts are present at Penistone Town Hall every Thursday to offer benefits guidance

The future of a benefits and debt advice service in Penistone has been confirmed weeks ahead of the existing contract ending – and it could possibly expand to help reach a hidden level of demand.

A once a week session has been organised by the charity organisation DIAL at Penistone Town Hall and regularly attracts between four and six people requesting help.

Its success can be measured by the fact that it generates more than £19 in benefits previously going unclaimed for every £1 spent on running the service.

The service is financed by Penistone Area Council, a body made up of the six councillors who represent the Penistone district, and they have agreed to finance a new scheme from January onwards – encouraging DIAL to re-apply to operate it.

They also plan to invite potential bids for additional work, which could see additional sessions operated – possibly early evening so people who work but also need benefits advice would be able to attend.

Although Penistone is often regarded as Barnsley’s most affluent area, councillors believe there are significant debt problems, which often remain hidden.

PAC chairman Robert Barnard said: “Living costs in rural areas are higher than urban areas. The National Farmers’ Union has done research showing families spend £2,000 more for the same standard of living. Families are paying more for fuel.”

Coun Paul Hand-Davis said: “You can queue for a long time waiting for the worker. It may be there are double or three times that number (needing help).

“I think there is still an unmet need.”

Coun Hannah Kitching added that house prices were expensive in the area, with an “expectation” among some that they should match the standard of living enjoyed by others.

“It looks like people are managing, but it only takes people to lose some work and it comes crashing down,” she said.