A SERVICE providing essential advice for older people is under threat as it faces a struggle for funding.

In the last year, Age UK Darlington’s Information and Advice centre helped the town’s older population boost their income by more than £1.6m.

By providing free advice on issues such as benefits, housing, health and affordable warmth, the service works to maximise the income and improve the lives of over-50s.

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However, its future is uncertain as government cuts begin to bite nationwide, with competition for funding becoming tougher as a result.

As funding grows scarcer, demand on the service increases as older people struggle to cope with benefit reform and austere times.

The organisation’s chief executive, Gillian Peel, has appealed for support in a bid to secure the future of the advice service and to enable it to provide help for more people.

She said: “We help older people fill out complex forms, put in claims and with general advice.

“You hear about people falsely claiming benefits but most older people are quite reluctant to claim at all and some are in dire need of it – the vast majority of older people are not as wealthy as people think and they need help.

“Last year our advisors managed to make a £1.6m difference to people in Darlington and there’s still a massive amount unclaimed, but we don’t have the capacity to help more people.

“We currently get some funding from Darlington Borough Council and public health but the council is reviewing the strategic grant it gives us and if we lose that, it would make our situation particularly difficult next year.”

She added: “We’re a local charity without national support and Darlington would be worse off without us.

“We get amazing feedback about the difference our service has made to people’s lives and without it, older people would become more excluded and isolated – it’s a service that’s vitally needed yet one of the hardest to fund.”

Age UK Darlington’s Information and Advice Centre is based at Beaumont Street in Darlington and is open Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 3.30pm.

For more information or to donate to the charity, visit ageukdarlington.org.uk or call 01325 357345.