Row breaks out over debt advice contract

'Disgraceful' Advice NI condemns Citizens Advice Northern Ireland

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland has behaved "disgracefully" in seeking a judicial review of the awarding of a debt advice contract, according to Bob Stronge, chief executive of Advice NI.

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland is arguing that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment did not properly carry out due diligence when it awarded the contract, worth up to £2.5m, to Advice NI. The start of the contract has been stalled by the action.

Stronge, who is also the chairman of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, said he and many others in the sector were "appalled" at the move.

Citizens Advice Northern Ireland already held one debt advice contract and had tried to stop the new one going out to tender, he said. "It is disgraceful that one charity would do this to another," Stronge said. "When we lost the initial contract we didn't go to the High Court. Our ethos wouldn't allow us to go to court to attack another charity.

"The CAB is very competitive and aggressive. It works in partnership only when it sees a clear advantage for itself. The situation is getting nasty and relationships have completely broken down."

Derek Alcorn, chief executive of Citizens Advice Northern Ireland, said he regretted having to take the court action but that in the absence of an appeal mechanism there was nothing else the charity could do. The case is expected to be resolved at a final High Court hearing on 29 October.

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