Volunteering at Citizens Advice Watford
The impact on our clients of the advice we give is immeasurable, and that means the quality of advice must be of the highest standard. All advisers are highly trained and supported by experienced supervisors. The Citizens Advice Adviser Learning Programme is highly regarded because it is rigorous and demanding, and as such the adviser role requires a level of commitment over and above that of most volunteering roles. But those who rise to the challenge find it worthwhile and rewarding beyond their expectations.
If you are looking for a less demanding role, but one which is none the less stimulating and rewarding, you may be interested in a supporting role such as administration or reception. These roles are vital to the smooth running of the service and to ensure that our clients have a positive experience of their visit.
The video below shows Citizens Advice volunteers in a range of roles talking about their experiences.
Expand the selections below to find out about the different volunteer roles.
Gateway assessors see clients face to face and speak to them over the telephone. They provide an initial diagnostic service, identifying the issue and the most appropriate next steps the client can take towards resolving it. A gateway assessor will typically see up to six clients in a morning or afternoon session, using information on the Citizens Advice public website www.citizensadvice.org.uk as well as other resources, to assist the client. At the conclusion of the interview, the client will have been given information to help them progress their enquiry, signposted to another organisation for further help, or made an appointment for generalist or specialist advice.
Advisers explore the client’s problem in detail, providing in-depth advice which often requires extensive research. An adviser will help the client identify their rights and responsibilities, the options available to them, and the most appropriate action to take. Advisers are trained to use a comprehensive information system exclusive to Citizens Advice, and have access to specialist support in all the main enquiry areas. An adviser will typically see two clients in a morning or afternoon session, with each interview lasting 45 minutes to an hour.
Receptionists are the public face of Citizens Advice Watford, and play a key role in determining our clients’ experience of their contact with us. They welcome visitors and explain how the service operates. They liaise with other roles within the service, manage the reception area, support vulnerable clients, input confidential client data and respond to general enquiries. Receptionists do not give advice, but they can help clients find information on the tablet computers in the reception area.
Admin assistants play a vital role in delivering advice for our clients. They maintain the filing system; answer calls from clients wanting to book, amend or cancel appointments; maintain supplies of printed documents; and make outgoing calls to clients to confirm forthcoming appointments.
For established admin assistants there are a wide range of opportunities to support specialist adviser and work on ad-hoc projects. This might involve:
* printing and collating training materials
* maintaining volunteer records
* analysing and presenting statistical data
* calling creditors to gather up to date information about client’s debts
If none of the above roles appeals to you but you have a particular interest or skill which you would like to put to good use, you can still offer your services as a volunteer and we will try to match you with a suitable opportunity. For example, someone with marketing or fundraising experience could help us with publicity or fundraising events, someone with experience in communications could help us develop and maintain our social media presence, and someone with an interest in research and campaigns could get in involved with some of our campaigning or policy work.
If you can’t commit to regular or long term volunteering but feel you have a contribution to make, ask us how you could help and we will look at whether we can find a suitable opportunity for you.
At Citizens Advice Watford, all our advisers undertake reception and gateway assessor training initially. Some volunteers will then continue in the gateway role, while others will undertake further learning to become advisers.
The Adviser Learning Programme is a competency based modular programme, comprising individual study, observation activities, group sessions and external training courses. A variety of methods is used to assess competence at various points during the programme, and a certificate is issued on completion.
At Watford we deliver the programme over a 14 week period of weekly group sessions supported by individual study. This is followed by a further period of learning while working with clients. The time it takes to complete the learning programme depends on how much time each volunteer is able to commit. As a guide, a gateway assessor volunteering for one day every week could be fully trained in nine months, and adviser training will typically take a further year of study and working with clients before full competence is reached.
Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures and bring a wealth of different skills, knowledge and experience with them. We celebrate the diversity of our volunteers, which reflects the community we serve. We do not prescribe any previous knowledge or experience, because we provide comprehensive training and support; however, much of the work we do is computer based, so a reasonable level of proficiency in using information technology is required.
Being a volunteer adviser or gateway assessor is a serious commitment, and we ask all prospective volunteers to carefully consider whether their individual circumstances are compatible with a regular, long term volunteering role before applying. We invest considerable resources in training and developing volunteers in these roles, in the expectation that they will make a long term contribution to the service we provide to our clients.
For the gateway role, we ask our volunteers to be available on a regular weekly basis for at least one day per week (or two half day sessions) for a minimum period of one year.
For the adviser role the commitment is the same but for a minimum of two years. During the initial stage of the training programme you may find that the volume of learning requires a little more of your time than this, but the learning materials are online and some can be completed at home.
We pay volunteer travel expenses including mileage, parking and public transport.
Receipts are required and expenses are paid monthly in arrears.
Our green policy also allows for a nominal payment to those who walk or cycle.
Note. For those travelling long distances or using expensive parking facilities we may cap the amount we are able to cover.