In 1974, the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (Citizens Advice) was established as the co-ordinating body for the Northern Ireland bureaux.
To retain the independent nature of the bureaux - as a place where information and advice was available, free of charge to all - the bureaux became independent from the various bodies under whose auspices they were operating followed by a further stage of independence in 1984. The DHSS recommended that the NICSS should become the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) and that all responsibility for the CAB Service should be transferred to Citizens Advice.
On 1st April 1984, Citizens Advice became an independent limited company with its own constitution, receiving 100% funding from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI).
In 2006, after seven years of planning, fundraising and hard work, Citizens Advice Regional Office took possession of new premises in Donegall Pass, Belfast. The building, which incorporates purpose-built training facilities, is fully accessible and increased the space available for training, new technology and projects.
Today it is one of the largest voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland with the Regional Office in Belfast, 29 local offices and 110 other outlets.
Background and Early Years
The Civil Defence Authority had asked the Belfast Council of Social Welfare (BCSW) to set up information centres in the city. The BCSW asked Mrs. Audrey Irwin to set up an information centre for people with problems like tracing soldiers missing in action, rationing allowances and contacting Prisoners of War. Other problems that people faced then are just as prevalent today, include new law changes to pension provision, rent arrears and accident victims enquiring about compensation.
A Citizens Advice Bureau, set up in the office of the BCSW, became the centre around which information and advice was provided. A grant made by the Ministry of Public Security helped towards its running costs. After the war ended this grant, like those in the England, Wales and Scotland, was stopped. Belfast Corporation, recognising the worthwhile work being done in assisting the transition from war to peace, agreed to contribute towards the cost of maintaining an advice bureau in the city. However, at that time there was no formal connection with the CAB Service in Great Britain.
Over the years, the importance of information in enabling citizens to understand the complexities of provision in all aspects of life, led to different committees recommending the setting up of information and advice agencies. The recommendations of the Moloney Committee in 1962 led to a whole new range of enquiries for Citizens Advice Bureaux to deal with. The Committee was concerned with the access to adequate advice and information for consumers, and said that, "the consumer ought to know or be able to find out what her/his rights are and against whom s/he can maintain them".
Because of the recommendations of the Moloney Committee, it was agreed that the Board of Trade should grant-aid the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to expand the CAB Service in Great Britain. In Northern Ireland, the Ministry of Commerce was charged with the implementation of the Moloney Report. It offered grants to both the BCSW to employ a part-time worker in Belfast, and to the Northern Ireland Council of Social Service (NICSS) to promote Citizens Advice Bureaux throughout the whole of Northern Ireland.
Thus, in 1964, the BCSW opened a CAB in Bryson House in Belfast. Over the next few years, the number of enquiries being dealt with increased steadily, as did the number of bureaux dealing with them.
The organizational structure of the Citizens Advice Service in Northern Ireland was also changing around this time. In Great Britain, the National Citizens Advice Bureau Council (NCABC), which was responsible for the organisation of Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales, had gained independence from the NCSS and was subsequently renamed the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureau (NACAB). At this time, Northern Ireland bureaux did not have a separate regional committee comparable to those operating in Great Britain. In 1972, however, the decision was taken to set one up in order to provide an effective channel of communication between local Citizens Advice Bureaux and the NICSS, and to permit all bureaux to participate in the policy-making process of the service as a whole.