A vital North-east advice centre is being closed because of funding cuts and a lack of staff.
Gordon Rural Action said it had “reluctantly” taken the decision to close its Ellon advice centre which last year helped nearly 2,000 new clients achieve a staggering £3.26 million in client financial gain.
The charity’s vice-chair, Joe Brown, said a combination of recent unexpected funding cuts - including that by Aberdeenshire Council - coupled with a reduction of trained advisers, had forced the trustees to take the regrettable decision.
He said: “Ellon can no longer be operated to the high standard necessary and is no longer affordable in our current, financially-constrained circumstances.”
The premises at The Square will close at the end of September, but Gordon Rural Action’s two other centres at Huntly and Inverurie will remain unaffected.
In 2018, visitors to the three centres sought help in dealing with nearly 24,000 problems ranging from benefits entitlement, welfare rights and employment to housing, consumer rights, debt management, evictions and bankruptcy.
A key trend identified by advisors during the year was that clients were often attending with more complicated and challenging issues, which increased the time spent per client.
Looking to the future, Gordon Rural Action are now working on proposals to develop more flexible outreach services and more innovative methods for engaging with and assisting the many thousands of Aberdeenshire residents who depend on its services.
Mr Brown said: “We are optimistic that these services will be available to residents of Ellon and surrounding areas who currently make use of our Ellon Advice Centre.”
He added that should new funding become available, then Gordon Rural Action would still seek to create a “real rock-solid presence in Ellon” as there is a clearly-identified need for drop-in services in the town.
Commenting on the closure, Ellon councillor Richard Thomson said: "Gordon Rural Action has had a good record of providing advice services across Central Aberdeenshire.
"It’s disappointing to see them ending their physical presence in Ellon - people will rightly be concerned about how they can access appropriate advice services into the future."
Cllr Thomson, leader of the Opposition Partnership on the council, added: "UK Government changes to benefits are causing real hardship and have driven up demand for advice services, so it’s vitally important to make sure they remain available.
"It’s important that Aberdeenshire Council and partner agencies use this time to make sure that residents of Ellon and the surrounding area are not left without convenient access to advice services.
“I’ll be seeking assurances that everything that can be done will be done to make sure this change does not put the most vulnerable at further disadvantage.”
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “We have been in discussion with Gordon Rural Action over several months with the aim of resolving an ongoing gap in service delivery.
“We are sorry to hear the Ellon office is to close and will make sure those living locally will be able to access services through other providers, and we will continue to offer support and advice to the charity to ensure the full range of services are available at its other locations.”