Adviceline: an exciting challenge for volunteers
Citizens Advice Westminster launched its new Adviceline service on 3 October with extended telephone opening hours to make it easier for clients to get in touch. This resulted in a 140% increase in out telephone service and callers now have a low-rate 0300 number to call from landlines as well as mobiles.
We asked one of our volunteers Hareem Sarwar for her views on the new service and what she feels she gains by volunteering as a Gateway Assessor.
Why have you volunteered for Citizens Advice Westminster rather than any other charity?
After becoming a mother and having recently completed the Legal Practice Course I wanted to get back into the world of work but get involved in something altogether quite different to my previous corporate experience.
I initially decided to volunteer as a way to utilise my existing skills but also to develop new ones. As I researched Citizens Advice, my decision to volunteer here rather than elsewhere became driven by the work it does, its investment in volunteers and the opportunities I would be exposed to. Citizens Advice is central to the local community in a number of ways, from helping clients with legal, social and financial problems to campaigning on serious issues residents face. Since volunteering I have seen how reliant local residents are on this service and the dedication and commitment of staff a
nd volunteers to help each client.
What am I hoping to achieve both personally and for clients?
As a Gateway Assessor I am responsible for undertaking a brief assessment before deciding what are the next best steps for clients; whether that’s an appointment at the office with one of our specialist advisers, or directing them to a specialist partner agency that clients would not necessarily have known about.
It is important for me that a client walks away feeling satisfied with the service I provide. That means allowing a client the opportunity to tell their story, whilst at the same time extracting the most important information from them in order to progress their case.
Although volunteering helps clients and the organisation, there’s a great deal to be achieved for yourself too. My work at Citizens Advice, sometimes liaising with extremely desperate and vulnerable clients, has provided me with a great deal of personal and professional development. On the professional side I am learning about legal processes and local government matters. On the personal side I hope to be able to achieve a better understanding of the local community and the day to day problems local residents face.
What are your thoughts on the new service?
The new Adviceline service managed between six local Citizens Advice offices across London expands our ability to deal with more clients by telephone. It also ensures Westminster residents have more opportunities during the week to speak to an Assessor over the phone. Although it has been an exciting challenge to adjust to a new system, the quality of the service and commitment we provide has not changed.
How did you find the volunteer training?
Due to the proximity of Adviceline’s launch date, we undertook an intensive one week training course. Although there was a lot to learn, I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions. Training involved a combination of interactive and group learning, role plays and lectures. The training week provided a good understanding of the Westminster office’s services and advice areas. It also provided us with the confidence necessary to undertake client assessments. Apart from the training week, our initial Gateway conversations were supervised, with plenty of feedback to enable us to improve where necessary.
What would be your message to anyone thinking of volunteering?
I think volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved in local and national causes, especially for charities who see volunteers as critical to the work they do. I would recommend volunteering to anyone, whether you are a student, looking for a career change, retired, or just have some free time. At Citizens Advice Westminster I have had the opportunity to develop skills, meet people and learn about issues I never would have known about had I not joined the team here. I believe volunteering enables you to do something truly worthwhile and to challenge yourself. It also exposes you to the realities of life other than your own.
Adviceline is open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm and calls cost the same as calling an 01 and 02 number. Call us on 0300 330 1191. When calling from a mobile please enter this number when prompted ‘to enter a local landline – 020 7706 6012’.
If you want to become a volunteer please email the training supervisor firstname.lastname@example.org