What has your local CAB done for you? More than you might think. Most people would associate Citizens Advice with providing advice which is free, impartial, independent and confidential. We also take action to address the issues which give rise to the difficulties experienced by our clients.
All of us are affected by policies and practices which are contained in legislation, regulations, codes of practice, other administrative guidelines and the policies of service providers. However, they are not always written down or otherwise made explicit and there are often insufficient numbers of staff to deal with complaints when things go wrong. This is frequently the case in the delivery or administration of services particularly when big changes are being introduced such as the introduction of Universal Credit.
Some policies affecting CAB clients are national, like benefits and social security, employment and immigration. Some national policies are administered according to local policies and practices. Examples include housing benefit, community care, housing, health and education. Collection of council tax arrears is a local policy issue.
It is a twin aim of the CAB service to improve the policies and practices that affect people’s lives. Each bureau is expected to take action locally and contribute to work undertaken regionally and nationally. Whilst advice may benefit an individual client, it is more effective in the long run to tackle the root cause of a problem and persuade the policy maker to make a change.
For example, long delays in processing housing benefit locally will increase client numbers. If the bureau is able to work with the local housing department to identify the problems and find solutions many are likely to benefit. So what action is Citizens Advice Waverley taking?
Volunteer advisers working for Citizens Advice Waverley have helped more than 1,700 clients with just under 3,700 problems since April 2013. Almost a third are concerned with benefits the majority of these being as a result of delays experienced with changes in status of and appeals against refusal of Employment Support Allowance. Difficulties in obtaining information from the Department of Work and Pensions is also a common problem. It is difficult to achieve improvements locally in this instance as the underlying cause needs to be dealt with at a national level. The Citizens Advice campaign team, based in Central London gathers information received from bureaux to campaign and to draw the government’s attention to what is a national issue.
However underlying causes of the 10% or so of issues which are housing related are discussed at regular meetings between Citizens Advice Waverley and Waverley Borough Council which make a difference.
Taking action on underlying causes of problems is not restricted to other bodies. Some clients have complained about the cost of telephone calls made to CA Waverley. Evidence is being gathered as to the number of clients who are dissatisfied with this aspect of the service and the issue will be addressed with the management team.