Having worked and raised a family for many years, I waned to “give something back”, and started volunteering with Hounslow Citizens Advice 6 years ago. I have found it to be a supportive and stimulating environment in which to work – staff and volunteers all help each other in our attempt to give the best possible support to our clients. The variety of problems that are presented certainly keeps us on our toes, and means that you become aware of all sorts of support bodies and other resources that are available. Our aim is to empower our clients to deal with their problems themselves, rather than doing everything for them, and it is wonderful to see how people discover that, with a bit of guidance, they can manage on their own.
One of the interesting aspects of the work is that you never know what issue is going to come through the door next!
I have found the work immensely rewarding, and hope that I have been able to make a small difference to people’s lives. It has certainly been more challenging having to work from home during the Covid-19 crisis, and I was pleased I had a few years’ experience to draw on – it has been interesting to find out how much one picks up from people’s faces, which it is not possible to do over the phone. I do miss my colleagues, and look forward to working collaboratively with them again before too long.
If you are considering volunteering for CA Hounslow, I would warmly recommend it, the work is very rewarding and you will make new friends among your colleagues.”
Is there a typical day?
When I was training I was told that one of the most popular Citizens Advice queries concerned hedges with particular emphasis on Leylandii. I have been a volunteer for over 5 years but am still waiting for my first Leylandii.
The queries we deal with in Hounslow are mainly debt, benefits, housing with a bit of employment thrown in. As you might expect, they don’t tend to fall into neat delineated categories rather one drives or is impacted by the other.
It’s not really about debt and benefits though, it’s about people who happen to have issues with housing or Universal Credit or whatever.
The client contact is the part of a typical day that is always atypical. You might identify the issue, set out the options and advice as per Advisernet , discuss with your ever helpful ,patient and knowledgeable supervisor, and feel totally in control but the way it is received and the impact it might have on that individual’s life, is not standardised.
I’m not sure if I would like to deliver the service by chat as I enjoy the interaction with the client. They are doing you a favour by letting you into their lives and experiences. It is not always easy. It can be frustrating, It can make you feel helpless – but back to the training again, when I was told ‘ask yourself if the client feels even a little better about the situation’, if so, you have done something positive. And if you manage to achieve an outcome for your client, if your client says Citizens Advice have really helped them and , pre Covid, a box of chocolate arrives, then that really makes it a very good day indeed!
In these strange times, nothing seems to be normal or usual any more. However what is a normal day for me as a Citizens Advice Advisor is probably not seen as normal by most of the other, more experienced volunteers. I was really pleased to complete my training as a volunteer in February this year and was looking forward to volunteering two days a week – one day offering face to face advice and the other on Adviceline giving advice to clients over the phone. But after only three weeks we were in lockdown and everything changed. I was asked if I’d be willing to provide telephone advice from home two days a week, and by the end of March I was up and running. A typical day for me starts with checking the Referrals sheet, which lists the calls or emails assigned to me. The clients on the list may have called Adviceline or have sent an email query to Hounslow Citizens Advice. For each client I’ll check Casebook to see if they’re an existing client then call them and find out why they’ve contacted us. In many cases I can provide them with the information or advice they need by checking the Citizens Advice Public Site or other information sources or sometimes signposting them to agencies such as Shelter or ACAS. Often the issue is more complex so I’ll need to check the appropriate advice with a Supervisor, in which case I’ll end the call with the client, speak with the ASS, then call the client back. And in many cases the client will need more in depth advice so I’ll make an appointment for them with a specialist CA Advisor or a Solicitor. After the call I write up the case notes and possibly send an email to the client with links to information or confirming an appointment.
However one ‘typical’ day is never the same as another. The range of issues clients are facing is enormous and although many are similar, no two are ever the same. As always, many clients have problems relating to employment, housing and benefits however during the COVID pandemic there have been spikes when, for example legislation has changed regarding evictions or furlough. And recently there’s been an increase in the number of calls I’ve taken relating to debt. However I’ve taken calls about everything from ‘Can you arrange for someone to fix my boiler’ to families having literally no money as they’ve no recourse to public funds and have no work due to the pandemic. But whatever the issue, each client is an individual with worries and concerns who needs advice and information and it gives me a lot of satisfaction that I can provide some help with this. Working from home is sometimes challenging but it’s great that Citizens Advice can continue to offer help and support to those who most need it during these difficult times. For many clients, face to face interviews would be easier and of course I miss contact with other volunteers and staff but support is always available on the phone. However like everyone else I look forward to returning to what I hope will be a more normal way of working.