1: Citizens Advice in Austere Times


Lucy’s story of trying to access advice in Bristol, and Sue Evans’ response on the ever-increasing and conflicting stresses and strains of advice, give a rich indication of the constantly shifting challenges facing advice seekers and those attempting to deliver advice services. In this chapter I examine the history, funding and regulatory environment of Citizens Advice, the largest voluntary sector advice organisation in the UK and the principal subject of our research programme. The structure of Citizens Advice – national umbrella organisations providing services, support and guidance to local autonomous charitable organisations that themselves rely heavily on a volunteer workforce – is both unique and critically important to the strength and adaptability of the service. Advice work forms the first ‘pillar’ of the service, while the national/ local structure also enables the service to deliver its second ‘pillar’: using the intelligence from its advice-giving work to influence social policy. In this chapter, I will focus on the ways in which the resourcing of the service has been changing, concentrating on three key forms of resource and support: the relationships between national and local organisations; the funding of bureaux; and the volunteer workers in advice. Each of these elements is changing in ways that have profound implications for the provision of advice and point to an increasingly unsettled future. I conclude with an assessment of the threats and further challenges to this voluntary sector advice service.

The Citizens Advice service is comprised of a network of local associations, each being, until recently, known as a ‘Citizens Advice Bureau’ or ‘CAB’, connected to and supported by the national bodies Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

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Advising in Austerity
Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies