Social Policy work is one of the two main aims of the Citizens Advice service. As well as providing advice and information to help people resolve problems, we also work to improve and change the policies, practices and regulations which often lie at the heart of those problems.
The two aims of the Citizens Advice service are linked. Helping clients on a case-by-case basis is valuable to those individuals, but by tackling the root causes of the issue we can bring about real improvements for everyone, even people who never visit the bureau. We have a key role in speaking-up for clients, raising issues brought into our bureaux, contributing to public debate and influencing both public and private sector organisational operations, rules, regulations and ultimately legislation. We use the information and examples of our clients’ experiences to influence change in our society while maintaining their confidentiality at all times.
How do we do this?
A client may come to seek advice on a particular problem and, while addressing this, the adviser identifies that this could have come about because of a specific practice or policy which means they – and others – are in some way disadvantaged. Having assisted the client with their problem, the adviser will make an anonymised report about the issue and pass it on to the bureau's Social Policy Coordinator.
The Social Policy Coordinator’s role is to check the report (known as a Bureau Evidence Form) and take appropriate action, especially if it is due to the practices of a local organisation. The Evidence Form is passed to the Citizens Advice Social Policy Department in London, where data from across the country is collated and used in their work. Social Policy staff work with government decision makers and with other campaign groups, as well as running our own campaigns, in order to influence and change those policies, rules and laws which directly affect our clients.
Information is also exchanged within the county through regular meetings of bureau Social Policy Co-ordinators, and can lead to countywide campaigning initiatives.
And the system does work!
In summer 2011 a Bureau Evidence Form from Oxford CAB was quoted in Citizen’s Advice submission for ‘The review of the Financial and Leasing Association Lending Code’.
The problem concerned a client who bought a training course using finance provided by an FLA member. The course was not delivered and the client was left with a large debt which was being pursued. The client was not given any help or advice by the lender about protection he had under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act (i.e. if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000 on credit then under Section 75, the creditor is held equally liable for breaches by the supplier - even if that supplier has failed to fulfill an order because they have gone bust.)
The report points out that this behaviour breaches section 2A of the FLA code and recommends that the code spell out further what creditors are expected to do.
Interested in helping us with this vital work? See if your bureau is recruiting social policy volunteers
Click here to tell us about your experience of HMRC services in general and to read about our meeting with MPs on these issues
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