TWO advisers from Musselburgh CAB received the royal seal of approval for their work as they reached the final of Citizens Advice network’s 80th Anniversary Volunteer Awards.

Although they didn’t win, Deborah Mather, who lives in Musselburgh, and Sarah Baldry, from Gullane, were delighted to meet the Princess Royal.

Along with Olga Melnyk, the bureau’s voluntary chairperson; Yvonne Cassidy, bureau manager; and Mrs Mather’s husband Robin they attended the recent Citizens Advice Scotland Conference and annual general meeting at the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow Westerwood Spa & Golf Resort, Cumbernauld.

The event, which marked the CAB’s 80th anniversary, was attended by the Princess Royal, Patron of Citizens Advice Scotland, who spoke to all the finalists. The awards recognised the contribution of volunteers in several categories.

Mrs Baldry was a finalist in the Campaigner of the Year Award for her Universal Credit work as East Lothian was the first local authority in Scotland to experience full roll-out of the controversial new benefits system. Mrs Mather, an adviser for the past eight years, was a finalist in the Volunteer of the Year Award.

Mrs Baldry said: “I was thrilled to be nominated by my bureau for Volunteer Campaigner of the year and even more delighted to be a finalist. Not only did this mean an invitation to the annual general meeting and an opportunity to meet HRH Princess Anne who presented the awards and who was charming, but also there was a guaranteed £100 award for the bureau’s volunteers.”

She explained: “My campaign related to East Lothian being the first local authority area in Scotland to experience the full roll-out of the benefit called Universal Credit back in 2016. It had been controversial for some time and I suggested that it would be interesting to compare our clients’ financial entitlement under Universal Credit with what they would have received if they could have claimed the old legacy benefits that UC replaced.

“It was a great project: the whole bureau got on board asking every single client over the space of a fortnight for enough details for us to do these two calculations.

“Not only that, Haddington CAB joined in so we were able to cover the whole of East Lothian in our survey. The results were rather depressing as many more people were worse off than better off, and the amount of reduced income was far greater than what the better off people gained.

“Particularly badly affected were those with disabilities and lone parents. However, our number crunching proved very worthwhile as our findings have been quoted in the debating chambers of Westminster and Holyrood, Westminster’s work and pensions committee, East Lothian Council and presented at several conferences across Scotland.”

She added: “Having got the UC bit between the teeth, I am now having a look at how the Scottish Government’s Scottish Choices are affecting our clients. These are modifications to how UC is paid to clients. At the moment they can choose to split it into two payments a month and/or have housing costs paid directly to landlords.”

Mrs Mather said: “Only one other bureau – Motherwell –had two nominees, so the fact that two of us were chosen redounds well to Musselburgh CAB’s reputation.”

Working as a generalist adviser in Musselburgh since 2011, Mrs Mather is also the volunteer representative on the Musselburgh board of trustees so that she can help with communication between the different sections of the bureau: volunteers, staff and board.

Together with Mrs Baldry, she also edits a bureau newsletter every few months to provide a round up of information and entertainment.

She said: “I get great fulfilment from my work as generalist adviser.

There is nothing better than being able to help a client, seeing them feeling visibly lighter after a face-to-face advising session – a problem shared being a problem halved.

“The bureau is a great place to work.”