Working for Citizen's Advice
It’s estimated that Citizens Advice Bureaux help over 2 million people every year deal with issues surrounding employment welfare benefits, tax credits and debt. It is a network of independent charities which, in addition to helping to solve financial and legal problems by offering information and advice, also plays a role in trying to influence policymakers. Most of its service staff are trained volunteers.
Training and QualificationsYou would possibly think that you would need a professional legal or financial background to work within a Citizens Advice Bureau and whilst many people do work or have previously worked in these types of professions, you do not need to have any formal experience or qualifications to offer your services as a volunteer. You’ll receive approximately 3 months theoretical training which will then be followed by shadowing more experienced personnel who will then act as your mentor and it will be them who will assess you and determine the time when they feel you are competent and ready to give advice yourself.
The important things you will need to have are personal qualities such as being able to listen in a non-judgemental manner, respecting confidentiality, being able to work well as part of a team, committed to the principles of equality, able to relate well to clients and to be able to work with them to achieve the desired results and some basic skills in arithmetic. You must also be committed to being able to devote a few hours each week to the role. The exact amount of time can vary from branch to branch, however.
Different Roles You Can PerformThe role of a Volunteer Adviser will involve exploring a person’s problem and explaining choices to them so that the client can decide what options are open to them and what they want to do. It might also involve drafting letters on a client’s behalf, making phone calls and calculating benefits and entitlements. All of an adviser’s meetings with a client need to be also documented on an electronic filing system and updated regularly as it may not always be the same adviser seeing the same client each time so it’s important to maintain accurate computer records so that both the client and any adviser who deals with them knows exactly at what stage a particular problem or issue has reached so that they can plan the next steps.
An adviser’s assistant is basically a less experienced worker who may be working alongside the adviser to become familiar with the process of assisting clients before they take on the role of an adviser themselves. Their work might include completing basic forms, preparing and handing out leaflets and self-help packs, taking down specific details of a client’s issue firstly so that it can be assessed by the advice team and designated to the appropriate adviser and they’ll often be the first point of contact when a person comes into the bureau for the first time. Even if you’re unsure about working in an advisory capacity, you can still offer your services on the administration side of things where your duties do not involve face to face meetings with clients. In this type of role, you would be keeping information files up to date, typing letters, photocopying, faxing, preparing and distributing information, inputting information onto databases etc.
Working as a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau means that you will be providing a vital service. If you’ve ever visited a bureau, you’ll know just how busy they are and they provide people, especially those who are vulnerable, with an extremely important lifeline when it comes to dealing with financial, legal and employment issues. The skills and training you will learn will also stand you in good stead on your CV as the skills and training you’ll receive will be transferable to many occupations.