CITIZENS ADVICE: Meet Tony, a volunteer assessor

By Emmott Leigh, Communications Volunteer

I hope that you have enjoyed meeting some of our volunteers through our column over the last few weeks.

Our volunteers do great work in a variety of roles and we welcome people with varied skills and experiences and those looking for a new challenge.

We are looking for some volunteers to support a late afternoon/evening advice session – mainly on the telephone at our Wokingham Town Centre office.

If you are interested in this or any other volunteer role please visit citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk – our next training sessions start in April and May.

In the last of our current round of volunteer profiles for the time being, we meet Tony Elliott, one of our Volunteer Assessors.

How long have you been volunteering here, and what made you want to do it?

It must be about a year now. As for why I wanted to do it: it was a combination of doing something useful, plus having a little bit of an intellectual challenge and moving out of my comfort zone.

Also, I had some interaction with Citizens Advice, as my friends and relatives had good experiences with them. I realised that there’s a lot of really good knowledge, and I wanted to have that knowledge anyway, because it means that I can help friends and family anyway.

What is the title of your role, and what do you do in it?

I’m a Gateway Assessor, which is essentially like a triage nurse in a hospital. I am the first to meet people, and do an assessment of their needs.

I decide whether I can help them immediately, in which case I do, or whether they need more in-depth assistance, in which case we can book an hour-long assessment to go through things in detail.

How often do you manage to help clients solve their problems yourself?

I’d say about half, maybe three quarters of them we [Gateway Assessors] can solve immediately, because quite often people just need pointing in the right direction to understand where they can get information from (websites, and things like that).

Do you give any hands-on guidance to them, or is it more about signposting them?

There’s lots of really useful information on the Citizens Advice website, so that’s often a good source.

If, for instance, we have a client who is dropping in with a quite specific question which can be resolved just by looking on the website, I would actually get onto the computer with them and interview them, show them the right website and ensure that they have the right link to follow it up.

That often provides a simple answer to the question they have.

I do this via telephone and face-to-face.

Do you think that we have a strong enough public presence, and are recent efforts to improve this going to pay off?

I think it definitely will be helpful to get a better public presence. For everyone who uses it and is aware of it, I think it’s got a good reputation. For those who aren’t aware of it, it doesn’t.

Sometimes you would see Citizens Advice signs tucked away in dingy little offices in run-down parts of town, and something which perhaps gives a more positive impression would be great.

For example, I would have thought that things like Cancer Research UK and those sorts of charities have a much more obvious presence as a charity than Citizens Advice does. Some of our recent work to change that will go a long way towards addressing it.

In that case, is it a question of branding? It is very clear that Cancer Research, for instance, aims to do research to fight cancer. Is that a bit more clear than Citizens Advice?

I think it is. I think that people wouldn’t know whether Citizens Advice is a charity or not, a subset of Wokingham Borough Council or what.

There’s an awful lot we could do to raise awareness, and we need to be quite comfortable that, by doing it, we would get more people in. If we can do that in a way that allows us to get money in as well, then hopefully we’ll be able to handle that as well.

What I’d want people to know most of all is the amount that we can help with. I’d say to just come in and give us a try, and see if we can help.

You can get help and advice from your local Citizens Advice or visit www.citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk or visit Second Floor, Waterford House, Erfstadt Court, Wokingham RG40 2YF. Tel: 0300 330 1189. email: public@citizensadvicewokingham.org.uk

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