Imminent closure of Benefit Office a bitter blow for Crossmaglen

February 4, 2013

The Jobs and Benefits Office in Crossmaglen is set to close permanently within a matter of months, The Examiner has learned.

Despite being one of the busiest outreach benefit offices in the North, officials from the Department of Social Development have decided to withdraw the service, directing customers to use the Newry office instead.

The news that the service will cease in April will come as a bitter blow to the local community who, along with elected representatives, have lobbied to keep the office open over the last number of years. The termination of this vital service represents another loss for a rural community already suffering from the withdrawal of key services.

The current economic climate has seen unemployment in the area increase significantly, so the closure of the local benefits office is sure to affect a large number of rural residents who may not have the means to travel to the main office in Newry.

Operational hours at the Crossmaglen branch were first cut back in July 2009 and the reduction in service then was met with widespread anger and dismay.  A public campaign was embarked upon which resulted in the Department of Social Development resuming full service at the branch a few weeks later, albeit with a warning that it intended to keep the situation under review.

Now it seems that review period has concluded and the office, which serves hundreds of people in the immediate and outlying community, will close its doors at the end of April.

Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty expressed his disappointment at the news saying it will have “a devastating effect” on the community.

“This news is a further blow to the people of Crossmaglen, as the Jobs and Benefits Office provided a pivotal service and many people avail of the facility,” he said.

“This will have a knock-on effect to other businesses in the area.  The town has seen a number of closures in the last few years – such as the bank – and the hours of the library have been reduced, resulting in a high rate of unemployment in the area.

“Unfortunately some of the people who avail of this vital service do not drive and will have to use public transport; there is a poor bus service that only goes at set hours so this will further affect them,” he added.

Councillor Hearty revealed his party colleague, Assembly member Mickey Brady, has already been in touch with officials in relation to the matter.

Meanwhile, in response to The Examiner, Department of Social Development issued this statement: “In line with the Social Security Agency’s commitment to deliver a modernised welfare system to customers across Northern Ireland, a review of Community Benefits Offices is currently underway.  These offices currently provide a limited range of services and often require claimants to subsequently attend one of the 35 regional Jobs and Benefits Offices/Social Security Offices.

“The outcome of the review is expected shortly and the details will be communicated to staff and stakeholders.  It would be inappropriate to make any comment through the media in advance of that.”