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Citizen’s Advice helped 2.7 million people last year. Formerly called the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, it is a service that offers free, confidential advice to anyone who needs it. Everything from a potential infringement of consumer rights, to money problems or issues with housing come under the Citizen’s Advice remit. If you feel like your consumer rights have been infringed, you’re involved in a dispute, or you need specialist advice and don’t have the resources to pay for it, Citizens’ Advice is a good place to start.
Established in the 1930s, Citizen’s Advice was created to help the British people with their problems. The first 200 Citizen’s Advice Bureaux opened just after the start of World War II in 1939. These first organisations were generally run by upstanding members of the local community and they were instantly popular. By 1942 the UK had more than a thousand Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and the increase in numbers continued until the 1960s when the funding was cut. Today, Citizen’s Advice consists of a network of around 300 independent organisations and charities. It’s a much better organised entity than in years gone by and, thanks to the use of email and webchat, is now able to help far more people than ever before.
The network of independent local charities that make up Citizen’s Advice cover 2,700 community locations across England and Wales. 7,000 paid staff provide the structure for countrywide advice across a range of issues – and they are supported by some 23,000 trained volunteers. Each local Citizen’s Advice is a member of the national body and together the 300 or so across the country make up the national Citizen’s Advice service. Much of the funding for the Citizen’s Advice comes from government sources.
The main aim of Citizen’s Advice is to help consumers out with problems that they might be having with issues that affect their lives. In providing that support Citizen’s Advice has four guiding principles:
These principles are applied to a very wide range of topics, including benefits questions, immigration and asylum issues, landlord and tenant disputes, consumer problems and employment related complaints. Today, much of the advice provided is still face-to-face (48%) but now 45% of complaints are dealt with over the phone and the rest via email and webchat.
Funding cuts in particular have had a big impact on the reach of the Citizen’s Advice (60% of its funding comes from the government). However, the organisation has adapted and evolved. Now, advice is provided via the Citizen’s Advice network and a range of partnerships, for example those that offer specialist guidance on issues such as pensions or dealing with cancer. The key factor is that there is always an option to get advice that is local to the person who needs it.
In person – Citizen’s Advice has more than 3,500 locations across the UK where you can get advice in person. These are situated in high streets and GP surgeries, courts, community centres and prisons. You can find information on your local Citizen’s Advice via the website.
On the phone – there is a national phone number for England (03444 111 444) and also for Wales (03444 77 20 20) and you can also find local numbers by searching the website.
Webchat – the Citizen’s Advice webchat service means that anyone can chat with an advisor, as long as you have a computer or phone.
Online resources – if you’re looking to browse information, as opposed to asking a direct question, the organisation’s website is filled with helpful guides and data. You can search directly for information that might be relevant to you.
Citizen’s Advice has a positive reputation when it comes to helping people deal with issues they couldn’t handle alone. The fact that advice is provided for free, as well as the impartial element of the service, are particularly important to consumers. There is sometimes dissatisfaction with response times but on the whole it’s a very well viewed consumer organisation, both in terms of the individual advice and the policy changes it has helped to campaign for. Crucially, around two thirds of those who contact Citizen’s Advice have their queries resolved.
Amanda Gillam is Solution Loans's General Manager and has been since 2009. She is also a prolific writer on personal finance issues, and has been quoted numerous times in articles published on 3rd party websites and in press releases. Her...Read about Amanda Gillam
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