Who Are Citizens Advice and How Can They Help You?

Who are Citizens Advice?

Citizens Advice, which is formally called the Citizens Advice Bureau, is actually a network of independent local charities which operate all around the UK. There are literally hundreds of Citizens Advice branches located around the UK, including offices across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Citizens Advice offer a free advice service designed to help consumers in the UK. All advice provided by Citizens Advice is confidential and impartial, and advice is offered on a wide range of subjects from housing and debts to family law and immigration.

History of Citizens Advice

The Citizens Advice Bureau was first established in 1939, partially as a response to the start of World War II and partially to fill a need to offer information and advice to citizens in receipt of then-new social welfare. The first 200 bureaux of Citizens Advice opened in the UK in 1939, with most branches dealing largely with wartime problems such as loss of ration books, homelessness, and evacuation.

After the war, the Citizens Advice Bureau was deemed less necessary, and funding was cut despite the charity’s widespread success. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Bureau continued to operate on a smaller scale than it had during the war, largely due to the help of charitable donations and trusts such as the Nuffield Foundation and the Carnegie Trust. As years passed, the focus of Citizens Advice shifted away from these wartime problems and more towards areas of social concern; by the 1960s, a quarter of Citizens Advice enquiries relate to housing.

During the 1970s and 80s, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) extends the network once more, and consumer protection becomes one of the charity’s main priorities. In addition, two recessions in the 1980s and an overhaul of the welfare system in the 1990s mean more consumers are coming to the CAB for advice on money and finance than ever before.

In 1999, the Citizens Advice Bureau launched their first website, which gives consumers access to advice 24-7. Since then, Citizens Advice have worked harder to digitise their services and provide help online, over the phone, and in person. As of 2012, Citizens Advice now have over 3,400 community locations throughout England and Wales, relying on a network of 7,000 paid staff members and over 22,200 trained volunteers. In addition, 11 million people visit the Advice Guide self-help website annually. And they’re still going from strength to strength: in 2015, Citizens Advice won Charity of the Year in the Charity Times Awards.

Citizens Advice offer free advice

How Is Citizens Advice Funded?

While the exact nature of Citizens Advice’ funding has varied over the years, today, Citizens Advice is funded primarily by the government, with 60% of Citizens Advice funding coming from government sources. On top of this, Citizens Advice is also funded by donations from the National Lottery’s ‘Big Lottery Fund’, charitable trusts, private companies, primary care trusts, and individuals.

While the fact that Government grants largely fund citizens Advice is sometimes a point of controversy for a charity that prides itself on its impartiality, this doesn’t appear to have affected the quality or independence of the advice and support offered by Citizens Advice.

What Can Citizens Advice Offer/Help With?

Today, Citizens Advice offer free advice to consumers on a huge range of topics, covering benefits, work, debts, family, and more. Advice is offered both on the Citizens Advice website or via face to face or telephone advice meetings. You can consult Citizens Advice for information on:

– Benefits. What benefits you may be entitled to, including Universal Credit, child benefit, and benefits for sick and disabled people or carers. You can find out more about what benefits you may be entitled to if you’re from the EU or the EEA, as well as advice and information on how to claim benefits and calculators to help you work out what you may be entitled to claim.

– Work. Your rights at work, including entitlement to holiday and sick pay, as well as workers’ rights. You may be able to get advice about problems at work or leaving a job, as well as discrimination at work and what to do if you’ve had an accident at work. There is also information about furlough schemes and work issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

– Debt and money. Help with debt and advice if you are struggling to pay your bills, including advice about bankruptcy, IVAs, and debt management plans. You can also seek advice about budgeting and mortgage problems and advice about rent arrears and borrowing. Citizens Advice can help you get the best deal on new loans and understand what the law says about your debts. You can also find information about pensions and banking here.

– Consumer advice. If something’s gone wrong with a purchase or something you’ve bought is faulty or fraudulent, or if you need to cancel or claim compensation for a holiday. This also includes advice on Royal Mail post services, phone, TV and broadband services, insurance, energy, cars, and many other consumer matters.

– Housing. Advice on renting, including social housing, tenants rights, repairs in rented accommodation, and mortgage problems. You can also get advice about homelessness and what help is available to you if you are looking for a home and help with mortgages, eviction, and council tax.

– Family. Legal advice about living together, getting married, or entering into a civil partnership, as well as advice about divorce or ending a relationship. This also includes advice on deaths and wills, domestic abuse, education, and child maintenance, and advice about children in social care and child abuse.

– Law and courts. Help to find free or affordable legal help and information about going to court, as well as specialist advice on rape and sexual assault. You can also find out more about your civil rights and discrimination laws and get advice about claiming compensation after an injury or appealing parking tickets.

– Immigration. Advice on staying in the UK after Brexit, applying for citizenship, and advising asylum and refugees. You can get more information about applying for visas for yourself or your family and friends, as well as advice about trafficking and deportation. Citizens Advice can also help with finding and filling in applications and documents.

– Health. This includes information about healthcare available under the NHS and NHS patients’ rights and help with health costs, and information about discrimination in health and care settings. There is also advice about going abroad for dental care and complaints about the NHS and social care.

As you can see, Citizens Advice offers advice and guidance on a huge range of topics. While most advice provided by the CAB is face-to-face, many enquiries can also be handled via telephone or web chat.

What Are Citizens Advice Campaigns?

Despite being a charity funded in part by the government, Citizens Advice does a lot of campaigning on behalf of individuals and groups underrepresented in government. Citizens Advice are uniquely placed to do this by using the vast amount of evidence they collect from the people they help analyse and identify areas for improvement in government and council policy across the UK.

Current campaigns run by Citizens Advice include a campaign to change the way Universal Credit is delivered so that more people can benefit from it during times of need; a campaign to encourage local councils to sign up to fair and effective debt collection protocols which both help people who are struggling with payments and reduce collection costs; and a campaign to ensure that workers are treated both fairly and safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Citizens Advice has already made a huge difference to many people’s lives in the UK by campaigning for change. They successfully campaigned to get the FCA to introduce tougher regulations on payday loan lenders and also secured better protections for tenants in the private sector. They also secured more protections for renters from aggressive bailiffs and more support for childcare costs in Universal Credit payments across the country.

Citizens Advice do a lot of campaigning

How Can Citizens Advice Help?

Citizens Advice provide a completely free and confidential service to everyone in the UK. Their advice is accessible, with advice offered online via the Citizens Advice website and in person, with hundreds of Citizens Advice branches located throughout the country. Citizens Advice is committed to being an independent body, which means their service is always impartial and remains independent of government or industry bias. This means that consumers can trust that they’re getting accurate advice with no ‘strings attached’.

The primary purpose of Citizens Advice is to inform and empower. Equipped with expert advice and knowledge, consumers in the UK can better understand what options are available to them no matter the problem. This enables people from all walks of life in the UK to make informed decisions on all kinds of issues.

Nobody intends to run into problems in life, but the fact of the matter is that most of us do, at some time or another. Often, these problems are difficult to solve without expert advice – which often doesn’t come cheap. By providing free advice on various issues, Citizens Advice are levelling the playing field for consumers on lower incomes and in less privileged positions.

Every year, Citizens Advice publish an impact report detailing how people use their services and where the biggest impacts are made. In 2018/19, Citizens Advice reported that:

– 2.7 million people were helped face to face, over the phone, via email and through webchat.
– 29 million people visited the Citizens Advice online advice webpages.
– 8 in 10 people said their problem was solved by following their advice.
– 98% of witnesses providing feedback said Citizens Advice support made them feel informed.
– £485 million was saved by the government and public services by the advice delivered by CAB.

It’s clear to see that Citizens Advice makes a huge difference in the lives of many people. Of course, seeking advice from the CAB is completely free, too, which means even if it doesn’t help, there’s little reason not to try. Citizens Advice is a hugely important charity not just because it helps so many people every year in the UK, but because it provides help to people who otherwise would have nowhere to turn, and simply makes many aspects of living in the UK – such as legal processes and the welfare system – more accessible and understandable to all.

How Can Citizens Advice Help With Loans and Financial Problems?

Finance and money worries are one of the biggest reasons why many people contact Citizens Advice. In their 2018/19 impact report, CAB cited 380,000 people contacted them for help with debt, while 740,000 contacted them for help with benefits, and many more enquired about housing and employment.

Citizens Advice debt services are comprehensive, covering everything from budgeting and managing your finances in order to avoid debts to getting out of debt once you’re in it. This advice can help you to figure out which debts to pay first, how to increase your income or reduce your expenditures, and make a plan to pay off all of your debts in a manageable way.

You can also get advice for loans and credit services from Citizens Advice, including information about the types of loans available to you and advice about what to look out for to get the best deal on credit. You can also find out more about how lenders will decide whether or not to give you credit and how to improve your credit rating, as well as how to find out whether a CCJ has been made against you.

Of course, financial problems are closely tied to other matters, including housing and work for many people. So if you’re struggling with debts or loans because you’re out of work or you’re behind on rent, Citizens Advice can help. One of the best things about the advice provided by Citizens Advice is that it is comprehensive; consumers can seek advice on a wide range of separate but interconnected topics to better understand the options available to them.

Citizens Advice help on debt and loans can be invaluable, especially because it’s free: it’s an easy starting point for people keen to get help with money problems without wanting to pay for expensive financial services and debt management help that may or may not be any better than the services provided by Citizens Advice. So when you’re struggling with money, it’s worth getting all the free advice you can, even if it’s just to ensure your budgeting and money management skills are a little better going forwards.

How to Contact Citizens Advice

To be most accessible and reachable to the widest audience in the UK, Citizens Advice can be contacted in various ways, including in-person, over the phone, and via the internet.

– There are over 3,500 branches of Citizens Advice across the UK, most of them located in high streets and city centres. You can check the Citizens Advice website to find more information about your local Citizens Advice and make an appointment or drop in to get face to face advice and information about your problem.
– Citizens Advice have national phone lines for England (03444 111 444) and Wales (03444 77 20 20), as well as local phone numbers for individual branches, all of which can easily be found on the Citizens Advice website. Advice is offered over the phone by knowledgeable and trained volunteers.
– There’s also a Citizens Advice webchat service available online, allowing consumers to chat with advisers in real-time via the Citizens Advice website.

On top of this, the Citizens Advice website is home to many online resources on a wide range of subjects. You can browse for advice and information online before phoning or going into a branch for more detailed or tailored advice.

It's worth getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice

If you need advice, whether it’s about debts and loans or something else entirely, and you’re unsure where to start, it’s worth getting in touch with your local Citizens Advice. Even if they can’t solve your problem for you, they can often point you in the right direction or send you some resources to get started. It’s also a completely free service, so it’s a great place to start even if you think you’ll seek more specialist help further down the line.