I’ve been an Advice Session Supervisor at Citizens Advice Wokingham since March this year. I started as a trainee and it felt like a bit of a baptism of fire — the internet being down 6 weeks in a row, making for a steep learning curve! These days things are slightly calmer, but each day has its variety of challenges and opportunities.
I start the day (after coffee of course!) by gathering the team for the day’s briefing — updating each other on latest news, explaining any changes in procedures, and any particular scenarios to look out for as part of our research and campaigns work. It’s always good for the team to be together at the start of the day, to catch up, decide who will do what, and get a sense of the day ahead.
After assigning someone to take our Adviceline calls, I check volunteers’ availability for the next four weeks to make sure we have enough cover. I notice that we will be short of assessors on a couple of days in a few week’s time. But before I get to whizz out an email requesting help, a client phones to cancel their appointment so I tell the adviser who was due to see them. Miraculously, a few minutes later, a client that that very same adviser had recently been dealing with dropped in to the office needing some urgent help. At least she was now free to see him!
I go back to my task list, trying to remember where I was. There’s a list of actions from the previous day’s advice session: clients to contact, new procedures to draft, problems to solve, and answers to find regarding various clients’ cases. As I plough through the list I say to one of the volunteers ‘it’s a bit like being a private investigator’. She laughs and says that’s what she likes about the role, the challenge of researching the answers!
Just then, one of the advisers walks into the office after seeing her first client of the day. She’s really excited because she has made great progress in helping a client with his benefits. This client has no income, has £3.98 in his bank account, and nothing else. She did a benefit check for him, was able to help him apply for Universal Credit, and advised him on his debts and housing. She wants to tell me all about it. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate successes with the volunteers so I encourage her to record it as a good outcome on our recording system, Casebook, and draft a case study as an example of a successful case.
I turn to the quality assessments I need to do — we have to do a certain number each month to check the quality of the advice we are giving. I have one more left to do that month, so I finish that, and then go on to check the write-ups of some of the new trainees.
More clients drop-in for help so I check the assessors are managing ok, and allocate the latest drop-in to a trainee who is ready to see clients on her own, with some support.
I’m due to have a chat with the Debt Specialist Supervisor about getting together an aide memoire to help advisers grow in confidence in dealing with debt cases. We chat about what to include, pull together some contributions, and I go away to write it up.
Then the first adviser walks back into the office after seeing the client who had dropped in needing the urgent help. Again the adviser is really happy she has managed to move the client forward a bit. It’s a complex case, an ongoing one, but she feels she has made progress and reassured the client. In fact, later in the day, the client sends a wonderful email of thanks.
After that, the trainee assessor comes back from her drop-in. We talk over the issues — the client has been in a few times before, and now has a court decision on her eviction. Sadly, there is not much practical help we can offer but we can explain the options now open to her. I make some suggestions to the trainee and she goes away and researches the Citizens Advice website for information on eviction procedures, the client’s rights, local council procedure on homelessness, and Shelter, and she advises the client.
Someone has arrived in reception and I’m called out to speak to her. It’s a drop-in — she says she is a victim of domestic abuse and really wants to speak to someone. I choose one of the assessors to speak to her who said he had recently helped with a client with the same issue. We have a chat before he goes in, and recap on the advice and options he can offer.
While he is seeing the client I look to see if there are any replies to my entry on Workplace. Workplace is like Facebook, but purely for work. You can set up groups for people interested in different aspects of work, or just use it to ask for help with an issue. Yesterday I posted a question asking if any Citizens Advice has a form filling service, as we are trying to arrange our appointments more efficiently, and forms are fairly time-consuming. I’ve received lots of replies, so I record them so I can put some options together for consideration.
The assessor comes out of his interview with the client who has experienced domestic abuse. He is assured she is safe and asks me to set up a solicitor’s appointment for her, after signposting her to further specialist help. He has heard a lot of sensitive information and he wants to talk about it — some cases are emotionally difficult and it helps to off-load a bit.
It’s nearly time to go home.
Throughout the day there have been numerous phone calls, issues to deal with, and somewhere along the line I managed to fit in a sandwich (and copious amounts of coffee!). There are always new things to learn in this job, which is one of the attractions of being here, and it’s a constant juggling act — I am never bored! And by the end of the day I feel I’ve made a difference to the clients and supported the volunteers to do a good job.
To find out more information about Citizens Advice Wokingham and opportunities to support us, visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk