- Given the national cost of living crisis and the wider impact of the pandemic it is no surprise that there are more people seeking help from the Citizens Advice network, and in different ways. At the same time there has been a drop off in the number of people willing to train as advisers and volunteer with us over a long period. National Citizens Advice have therefore set the following goal which we share:
To optimise demand across all channels to meet our goal of helping as many people as we can, as efficiently and effectively as possible
- Locally we are doing this by ensuring our resources are applied effectively, by introducing new ways to access our services and by ensuring there is “no wrong door” when people contact us, whichever method they choose.
- Whether people contact us by phone, submit a web form, are referred by other organisations, or call at one of our offices we will assess their needs and within 48 hours provide them with information or arrange for them to talk to an adviser. Where possible this will be done remotely to minimise both the risk of infection and travel for both advisers and clients. This improves our efficiency and reduces our carbon footprint.
- Where appointments need to be face to face we will take steps to minimise the risk of infection, including sometimes talking to the client from a different room using video equipment. We will work with partner agencies to ensure their staff and volunteers are able to provide basic information, assess client needs and refer people to us and other relevant agencies effectively and appropriately using appropriate IT systems.
- Historically, much of our advice has been delivered by volunteers – a process which benefits volunteers as well as clients. Although the pandemic has accelerated the long-term trend of fewer people willing to volunteer for Citizens Advice (and other charities) both nationally and locally over a sustained period, the number of people “willing to help” in their local communities has increased. As a result we recognise the need to change our offer so that a greater range of people are enabled and encouraged to contribute in a way which works for them and clients. We will be working with our colleagues in Conwy and other partners on this.
- We welcome the nationaI initiative to ensure discrimination advice better meet the needs of marginalised groups and will ensure this is rolled out locally. We will also ensure regular advice and support to our advisers in looking out for factors which underly problems such as domestic abuse, gambling problems and modern day slavery. We will also explore opportunities for increasing digital and financial capability skills to empower clients to better manage their affairs.
- We will use technology to enable many people to find information for themselves (sometimes with help from other agencies or friends and family) without needing full advice. This will enable us to focus on the people with more complex needs who need more intensive help, ranging from one-off advice sessions with an experienced adviser (which often means a paid member of staff) through to full casework over a period of weeks. We will continue to seek funding to provide the staff to do both of these.
- We will continue to put clients at the heart of everything we do, so that we can give them the help they need in the way in which they want to access it, whether that is face to face, over the phone or digitally. We will ensure that our advice is quality assured and consistently good. We will invite clients to engage with satisfaction surveys and welcome their feedback which helps drive excellence.
- The cost of living crisis is having a significant impact nationally and locally and is at the core of the problems faced by many of the people who come to us for help. We are determined to ensure that the problems faced by those on low incomes are better understood by local and national policy makers and to work with them to mitigate the impact on our clients.
- We will work with our colleagues in Conwy to maximise the impact of our campaigns, each assigning a member of staff to work on research and campaigns a day per week. Our campaigns will be on the issues that matter most to the people who come to us for help and will be based on evidence and research from local and national advice. We will continue to improve the way in which this is communicated and provide opportunities for clients and supporters to get involved.
- We will ensure that equity, diversity and inclusion issues feature prominently in our advocacy work.
Ensuring we have the infrastructure in place to support our twin aims
- We are grateful to all our funders and in particular to the Welsh Government and Gwynedd Council for the support which they provide. We are committed to ensuring the charity is well-managed and sustainable in the medium term, maximising the impact of our advice for every £1 of funding we receive.
- Our twin aims of advice and advocacy work together: if through our advocacy and campaigning we reduce the need for advice because services better meet the needs of citizens we will count that as an achievement. If the need for advice were to diminish and our services were needed less, this would be a cause for celebration although there seems to be very little prospect of this at present. In order to ensure we are focused on meeting client need in the most efficient way possible, we will keep the following under regular review:
- Which functions are best organised locally and which could be delivered in partnership with other organisations
- How we enable clients to receive advice in the way which works best for them, including remotely or face to face, in Welsh or English or in other community languages including British Sign Language.
- Our premises requirements as we move into long-term hybrid working with a mix of office-based and home-based working
- The IT systems and other infrastructure required to support our advisers and enable us to manageme the organisation
- The carbon footprint of our organisation bearing in mind the long term challenge of climate change and the urgency of tackling it
- The culture of the organisation including ensuring that remote working does not lead to isolation for staff and volunteers, promoting that equity and inclusion and celebrating diversity internally as well as in our client-facing work.
- The risks to our operations and the actions required to minimise and mitigate those risks
- We know that working with other charities in the Citizens Advice network and with other voluntary organisations is essential to minimise the cost of administration and maximise the impact for clients. But we also know that partnership working can be difficult. That is why we are committed to working closely with our neighbours in Conwy as a first step to working with other organisations.
- In our latest review, we have concluded that it is important to maintain a physical presence in Bangor, Caernarfon, Dolgellau and Pwllheli. We recognise, however, that apart from Dolgellau we don’t necessarily need as much space as we currently occupy (in Dolgellau we need more). We will therefore be working with partner organisations to look at more efficient use of the space available and alternative options which maintain our physical presence but where possible at a reduced net cost.
The following documents are to be considered by the Trustee Board at their meeting in July: