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A Day In The Life Of A Citizens Advice Volunteer

Published on: 13 Jan, 2023
Updated on: 16 Jan, 2023

Volunteer advisers are key to the support given to people by Guildford and Ash Citizens Advice. Here, one of its volunteers at its Ash office writes about a day in the life of an adviser, and perhaps may inspire more to join the team.

It’s the start of a new year – what new year’s resolutions might you make this year? How about a new challenge – learning how to help those in your community by training to be an adviser, making a huge difference the lives of individuals?

Harry has been volunteering as an adviser for nearly 10 years, and writing below he gives a flavour of what it’s like to be a volunteer adviser at Citizens Advice.

He writes: “The highlight for me is always being able to help a client solve their issues – seeing them going away very much happier than when they arrived! Each one is different, because of the wide range of problems that they come in with and because each person is an individual.

“The day starts with a team meeting on Zoom. I normally go into the Ash office, getting there soon after 9am, to log-on and get set for the day (with a coffee) with a quick look to see what appointments I have.

“The team meeting has 20-plus people so we are sometimes all together and sometimes in breakout rooms. It’s a chance to catch up on what’s new locally and with changes on national issues. We might also have a training module from the training supervisor to help us keep up to date.

Harry has been an advisor with Citizens Advice for 10 years.

“The volunteer’s day is lead by the advice session supervisors – there’s normally one in the office, but if they are busy or if I’m volunteering at home there are two on Zoom. They are employed staff with a wealth of experience and always my go to place when there is anything I can’t figure out myself. I start with a chat through with them the appointments I have coming up.

“Clients come from email or phone contact, or sometimes a referral for example from the council.  The initial contact will give a core of information, sufficient to decide whether we can deal with things on the phone or if it’s worth a face to face.

“In a typical day I will have appointments at 10.30am and 1pm, and if there’s time left there is a list of people to call. We close at 4pm and I’m finished before 5pm.

“So it’s now 10.30am and I have read up about my client’s issues, researched them on the internal information systems or elsewhere and discussed them with the supervisor.

“The client comes for what, in an ideal world, would be a one-hour appointment, but is often two hours. They only come if they have an issue they couldn’t solve on their own, so you know it will be something interesting and complicated!

“It may need more than one session but we do our best to solve things not just defer them. Before we finish I normally check back with the supervisor who often has something to add.

“At the moment there are lots of cash flow issues – with increased costs of living. Often these appear as debts that people can’t pay. The solutions are varied – we need to understand someone’s whole financial position and may solve an energy bill problem by helping claim a different benefit the client wasn’t aware of.

“Or it may be a question of how to create a budget that works for the client and getting the debts scheduled. And they may need a food parcel while we get things stabilised. From experience, the thing we know is that there is always a solution so it’s about finding what is needed to help the client.

“Just when you think you are now the expert on disability benefits you then get someone coming in with no idea where to start on a divorce – it’s not normally something people have done before and they may be feeling bruised and vulnerable.

“Or it might be a dispute between neighbours or an issue of a supplier or builder that they can’t get resolved. Maybe it will be about schools or about what their employer has done at work. If clients can’t resolve things themselves we are the place they come to!

“Citizens Advice provides all the sort of backup I was used to when I was working – so there’s lots of training, information and recording systems provided by head office which are excellent, experienced and knowledgeable supervisors to talk to as you go along and experts to refer to if it’s something we can’t solve locally.

Ash CAB is based at the Ash Centre.

The Ash office of Citizens Advice Guildford and Ash is based at the Ash Centre, Ash Hill Road.

“And all the other things you would expect in a professional office. It’s impossible to know how to solve everything – it’s about being in a place where you know how to find the information and support you need.

“Recent highlights for me have been getting benefits sorted out – an incorrectly calculated over payment of £30,000 reduced to £2,000, a state pension in payment where the records were all held wrongly, and a very deserved and needed disability benefit agreed where it had already been declined on review. Next time someone asks it will be different – the common theme being client’s issues resolved!

“I spent my career managing organisations. In contrast, volunteering at Citizens Advice gives a close personal contact with clients – they share the detail of their lives and you get the interest and satisfaction of helping them.”

If you’d like to explore volunteering with Guildford and Ash Citizens Advice, contact Mary at recruitment@ca-ga.org.uk.

If you’d like advice on any issue, complete a webform on its website https://ca-ga.org.uk/get-advice/forms/ or phone on 08082 787 888.

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