The provision of advice to Calderdale residents through Citizens Advice Calderdale and the link to wider well being, and other health and social determinants.
The local picture
We are the first port of call for thousands of people across Calderdale and have the flexibility to adapt to their changing needs. Likewise we have the ability to respond to the ever increasing demand for advice, despite the significant pressures on our services locally.
Our structure enables us to be flexible and varied in our service delivery across Calderdale. We use our insight to respond specifically to local need, benefiting local people and government. We are able to share our insight and inform local decision-making. We aim to create sustainable links between public, private and third sector organisations, including sharing resources and working practices.
We deliver our services from locations such as libraries and local authority offices, making it easier for clients to access relevant services. We have plans to deliver our services from a number of General Practitioner (GP) practices across Calderdale in the near future. We are also well placed to recognise emerging local problems. If we are not in a position to solve a problem immediately, we use our insight to campaign locally to change policies and practices, and assist the local authority in responding to these identified problems.
The majority of our clients face significant financial challenges and come to us to help them address these issues. We endeavour to support them to deal with their financial situation regardless of their problem type, especially where money is already tight and needs to be carefully managed. Our advice provision often integrates checking a client's finances, finding ways to maximise their income, and providing some form of financial capability training. Improving client capability and personal circumstances helps empower individuals, making them more resilient and less at risk of similar problems in the future.
On a national basis, Citizens Advice has recently established new opportunities to help more people. We now deliver pensions guidance and support witnesses in the court system. We work alongside GPs so they can prescribe advice alongside medical care. Our work as the consumer champion continues by educating clients to better manage their finances and get the best deals, as does our support for people who are making the transition to Universal credit.
Citizens Advice continues to alert government to any systemic problems our clients experience. Solving problems and changing lives is in everyone's interest, as is using our unparalleled evidence and experience to ensure government policy and private markets are effective and responsive to people's behaviour and needs.
Through the advice we give, we turn lives around. Prior to advice, people often feel stressed, anxious or depressed. Their relationships can be strained, both at home and in the workplace. This can sometimes lead to the prospect of losing their job, their home, or ending their relationship.
Not only do we help solve problems, our national research shows that our advice improves lives:
- Four in every five clients report that our help led to additional benefits: worries are diminished, confidence returns and a way forward can be found at home, at work and in the community;
- 90% of people are satisfied with our service;
- 95% of people would recommend us to their family or friends.
Locally, our most recent satisfaction survey reported that 96% of our clients were satisfied with our service.
We provide education and skills to our clients to help them avoid similar problems in the future. This equips them with financial skills to help manage their budgets and avoid debt, and ensures that they know about, and switch to, the best deals that meet their needs and save them money.
Our value stems from the way problems can affect individuals, and the detrimental impact problems can have on their lives. This includes working with those most in need. Advice and education, research and advocacy can mitigate this detriment - through resolving problems now and preventing them in the future. This saves money for the government:
- significantly for local authorities through helping to prevent evictions and homelessness;
- the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) through helping to maintain people in work rather than on benefits;
- the NHS through improving people's health and wellbeing.
It benefits society through healthier, happier people, moving forward with their lives with new confidence, participating in their community, and working more productively.
This is our value to society.
Within Calderdale, we conduct an annual survey of our clients' views on the service provided by Citizens Advice Calderdale. This survey routinely produces a satisfaction response in the high 90% bracket.
In addition to this annual survey, for specific projects we conduct client feedback surveys to find out our clients interpretation of the value of this assistance or advice. For these surveys, we currently use the Warwick Edinburgh mental well being scale as a measure. We also have access to social impact tracker tools which we might use to further drill into the value, or otherwise, of advice and assistance that we provide to our clients - from a client's perspective.
As a norm, we have an open complaints procedure which provides any client with the opportunity to formally raise a complaint if they feel that the service we provide has fallen short of expectations. Our complaints process has three elements: local examination, trustee board examination and external examination. We have had one complaint over the last year which was not upheld by the examining officer.
At present, there are no unmet needs.
Projected future need
Free, independent, confidential and impartial advice makes society better. Every year it is essential for millions of people to overcome their problems. Advice is also highly valuable. It is estimated that for every £1.00 spent on the Citizens Advice service, the taxpayer is saved at least £1.50. It boosts individual's incomes, and benefits society through better health, confidence and participation.
It is vital that Citizens Advice is able to continue to offer free advice in every community, on a full range of issues, through a range of channels, to ensure it is available for everyone who needs it. Local government must, therefore, maintain funding for the Citizens Advice service, and consider the social and economic benefits of increasing investment.
We create benefit to society through the way we deliver our services, in addition to the impact our principal activities have on clients' lives. This is our social value, which encompasses the benefit of working with volunteers, our support for local communities and our national network. It covers what is most unique about the Citizens Advice service, and the extra value that would be lost to society if our service and core work were removed from communities.
Key considerations linked to the known evidence base (what works?)
We are here to help everyone in society who needs us. By providing advice through our drop in sessions, our telephone advice line, national website and consumer helpline, we help a broad spectrum of our society. However, the clients we support through our network are often some of the most disadvantaged members of society and those most in need. There are often greater risks associated with allowing these clients' problems to escalate to the point of state intervention. Enabling them to make material differences to their lives helps to mitigate the social inequalities that give rise to health inequalities.
Local Citizens Advice clients are almost five times as likely to live on a low income than an average member of the England and Wales population. Our local network reaches almost one in five (17%) of the 8.6 million individuals living on a low income in England and Wales. Their lack of access to affordable credit means they pay an annual £1,000 "poverty premium" for essential goods and services, cutting into already tight finances. Nationally 1.4 million of our clients are on an income considered inadequate for their household. They are unlikely to be able to afford to eat healthily, maintain adequate accommodation and participate in society.
46,000 clients were advised on energy related consumer problems and / or fuel debt last year. Being in fuel poverty and not being able to keep warm has significant health implications. 37% of clients advised on debt or benefit had dependent children. Poverty has a detrimental impact on child development, and their life prospects.
The Citizens Advice service also sees a high proportion of clients who are disabled or have long term health conditions - 37%. These clients are at greater risk of social exclusion, and are more likely to report experiencing a problem than on average. Our research shows that they are likely to experience greater detriment as a result of a problem, as well as feeling less confident about knowing how to resolve their issue. Disabled people are also at risk of discrimination, either in being able to gain or maintain employment, or being able to access everyday goods and services.
References and further information
The Impact dashboard 215 and Advice trends for April 2014 to March 2015 provide further details about the number of clients accessing our assistance during 2014/15. The Advice trends also gives information on the type and nature of problems dealt with, and a breakdown of our client base in terms of age, gender, employment status, etc.
Alastair McGregor, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice Calderdale.