Guide: The Citizen’s Advice Bureau
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is a nationwide chain of centres that are designed to provide advice to anyone in the UK who needs it. The first Bureaux were opened in the 1930s, days after the start of the Second World War, and these centres have continued to provide free and impartial advice ever since. Officially, the network of Citizen’s Advice Bureaux are charities and rely on funding in order to continue to provide the services.
What is the Citizen’s Advice Bureau designed to do?
The purpose of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is to provide people in the UK with advice about the problems that they face. The organisation also aims to improve the policies and practices in place in this country that affect people’s lives. Advice that is provided is free and impartial and covers just about any area of rights and responsibilities in the UK. Many of the issues tackled by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau concern legal issues and money.
How is the organisation structured?
The advice and information is provided from 3,300 community locations in England and Wales – these are run by 338 registered charities and together these are the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux. Citizen’s Advice is also a separate registered charity and has been set up as the membership organisation for the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux. It’s this membership organisation that provides guidance for the Bureaux, as well as training and information systems. It also sets the standards for the advice and information that is provided.
How can you get advice?
Advice is available free to anyone in the UK by dropping into one of the 3,300 community locations to speak to an advisor – you can find the centre closest to you by looking at the website. The website is also designed to be self help with a wide range of information available to help people find answers to some of the most common questions that the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is often asked. The organisation also has responsibility for the Consumer Direct telephone service, the Citizens Advice consumer service (03454 04 05 06), which is specifically aimed at providing advice on consumer issues.
What kind of advice is provided?
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is designed to provide advice on any issues that people in the UK might be experiencing. This could be debt problems, a housing situation, immigration or employment difficulties. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is the UK’s largest advice provider and there are no specific criteria on who can ask for advice or what kind of issues the organisation is able to offer advice on, other than that it affects people in the UK. The consumer side of the service handles queries about issues such as problems with energy providers or with the postal service. Protection for the consumer lies at the heart of the advice provided and there is a broad range of information on the website covering consumer topics like consumer contracts, scams, complaints to Trading Standards, unfair trading and discrimination in goods and services.
Do many people use the Citizen’s Advice Bureau?
The Bureau’s statistics indicate that during 2012/13 it advised on more than 6.6 million new problems in the UK. These ranged from debt struggles to difficulties at work and problems with benefits and tax credits. In the same year, an estimated 8.2 million people benefitted from the work being carried out by the organisation.
How does the Bureau influence policy?
Almost every person that brings a problem to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is a good example of how a policy or practice in the UK is not working properly and so this is used to demonstrate to policymakers where there are problems with the system. The cases are used as anonymous examples to campaign for change on behalf of anyone who might be affected, not just those who have made a complaint. The Bureau publishes evidence reports, provides parliamentary briefings on certain issues, gives evidence to select committees and responds to consultations, all using the enormous mass of data that it has compiled from those who come to the Bureau with a complaint.
Can anyone use the Citizen’s Advice Bureau?
Yes. Nearly half the population has used the organisation at some point in their lives and a survey in 2009 found that 97% of people in the UK know what the Citizen’s Advice Bureau is.
What happens if you ask for advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau?
If you go into one of the 3,300+ locations in the UK for face to face advice you will normally be given information about the services on offer via fact sheets and leaflets. There is then a short session with an assessor for those who want it and this can be used to identify what the most appropriate form of help is to deal with the problem in question. There may be a follow up appointment made, either to speak in person, on the phone or by email and usually information will be provided to take away to start reading up about the issue and the solutions that are on offer. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau locations are situated in community centres, doctor’s surgeries, on high streets, in prisons and in courts across the country.
What if you don’t want to go to an advice centre or you can’t physically get there?
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau website has a lot of helpful information – www.adviceguide.org.uk. This website is designed to be self help and covers the law in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is continually reviewed by advisers to make sure that it is correct and up to date. You can also call your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau – local numbers are easily found using the website. There is also a national phone service that is currently being rolled out. The numbers to contact for this service are as follows:
For Wales call 08444 77 20 20
For England call 08444 111 444
TextRelay users should call 08444 111 445