Volunteers are doing the government’s work for free, Dunedin Citizens Advice Bureau board member Lachy Paterson says.
Dr Paterson, of Dunedin, said the role of the bureau had changed considerably.
Bureau volunteers were providing the “face-to-face advice” which Government departments once did.
The bureau “runs on the smell of an oily rag” and relied on volunteers to work for free and funding, such as grants, to operate, he said.
Dunedin bureau manager Robyn Eade said many people in Dunedin struggled to communicate with government departments because they lacked access to a computer.
The “digitally disenfranchised” in Dunedin were young and old.
Even among those who had access to a computer there were some who lacked the skills to complete online forms, such as those to apply for Jobseeker Support or superannuation.
“We have people coming in and asking us what their entitlements are.”
The bureau office in Rodgers House at 155 Princes St in central Dunedin had computers, she said.
Volunteers would happily help people navigate government websites to aid them in their efforts to find out about or apply for entitlements.
In many cases, people could have gone directly to government departments, such as the Ministry of Social Development, but many found the bureau more approachable, she said.
“We’ve almost become a social service and we are just about counselling them – we are not trained or funded for that, which makes things difficult.”
Immigration New Zealand had an office in Dunedin but it was not open to the public.
“So we get people coming in asking us complex immigration questions and we have no idea what the answer is.”
The Immigration New Zealand website was hard to navigate, especially for someone whose first language was not English, she said.
Government departments had been unapproachable for many years but were working on getting better, she said.
Police often sent people to the bureau for advice, she said.
When she began volunteering in 2016, protection and trespass orders were “unheard of” but now they were “routine” inquiries, she said.
If an inquiry was made, a volunteer would visit the Ministry of Justice website to tell the person about the orders.
The bureau had 38 volunteers from “all walks of life” but more were needed.
“It would be nice to have about 50 volunteers.”
Dunedin bureau volunteer and board member Anna Leslie said she volunteered for about three hours a week at the bureau because she wanted to give back.
“I felt doing something for your community is really important.”
The work was enjoyable and satisfying, she said.
“You get people who are really down and you can really make their day by getting some things sorted for them.”