My kids laugh at me when we have our weekly meetings here at Citizens Advice East Devon. Once a week those of us with the pleasure and privilege to be paid for doing something we love, get together for a quick chat and a catch-up. We celebrate our successes and we tell each other how important we are.
Most of the time doing this job can be quite hard. When I first joined Citizens Advice many moons ago, our Supervisor at the time, liked to refer to us as the 4th emergency service. Then the AA took that as their very successful media slogan. However, to many of our clients, we are indeed the place we turn to when there is nowhere else to go, and for them, we are their emergency service.
Occasionally we are blessed to share the news that a much-wanted pregnancy has happened and we get to help with maternity benefits. Yes, we can help with those and other nice things in life. However, the vast majority of our clients come to us on what they might perceive to be one of the most difficult days in their life. The day that they are at breaking point, they are desperate, they have had enough and made that really difficult decision that they need help.
Often making that first contact is difficult and we get that. We know that sometimes having to decide what help you need when you need a bit of everything is challenging which is why we offer a variety of ways for you to get in touch. You don’t have to call a number and make a decision as to which button to press, you can just send us a message through Facebook or Twitter, email us or perhaps text us with your contact number and we will call you.
You may feel you are going to tell us something that will shock us – you won’t – or that we will judge – we don’t. Maybe you think someone will find out what you tell us – confidentiality is at the heart of everything we do.
So even if we just happen to be dropping our child off at the same school as your child, our training is stringent enough that we won’t acknowledge you in the playground. If you have come to us for a foodbank voucher and we see you later buying ice cream at the school play – we know that you borrowed that money from your mate. If we have helped you with a disability form and we see you in the hairdressers without your stick – we know that you are having one of those rare days and we will be genuinely pleased that you are up and about.
We aren’t here to judge, we are just here to help in any way we can.
We appreciate that sometimes when you shout at us, you may not realise that we are volunteers and that you are angry at your situation rather than us. So, we will wait until you are feeling calm again and we won’t desert you. We are not going to put the phone down nor ban you from our service because you get a bit passionate or even sweary. What we will do is reassure you that we understand and that we are on your side. We know that often our mental health can be affected and even the most rational and reasonable personalities get frustrated. That isn’t to say that we are going to let our staff and volunteers be abused – far from it, we have a zero-tolerance policy on that. We know that you will apologise.
No one is going to judge you for your earlier discretions when you were scared and frightened because the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) hasn’t accepted that your disability is affecting you, or they have got your pay wrong at work for the fifteenth time.
You see, we know you, you are our clients and you are human.
We care that you are being disadvantaged and quite frankly often we might get a bit cross for you too (although we try to maintain our professionalism). But quite often when you are being abused, we do sometimes talk to each other in terms of ‘right we need to something here’ and ‘how are we going to change this’. We have also been known to cry as well, although we have perfected the art of huge, silent tears that creep down our face rather than the ugly.
And of course, we appreciate that sometimes when your mental health isn’t good, you just can’t speak. This is why we give you lots of chances and calls before we will give up on your case. We will do everything we can in our power to make it easier for you. Often, we will be able to tell you who is going to be calling and may be able to give you a time or even a text beforehand. You tell us what you want and if it can be done within the realms of possibility then we will try and achieve it. That’s just what we do.
Working remotely from home has allowed us to work in a very flexible way, and at the heart of everything we do is of course you. We recently adopted a motto here that is at our core and our ethos – ‘We care because you matter’. So, if you have been thinking about giving us a call or have even thought about joining us as a volunteer – the time is now.
What we can do for you
Often people do have unrealistic expectations of what we can achieve. For example, we can’t give financial advice and we are not lawyers – sometimes what we do isn’t advice at all! Which is a bit daft considering we are supposed to be an advice agency. As well as supporting you, our role is to discuss options with you, sometimes you may not feel like you have any choices but that is never the case here. I promise you one thing, we will do our best to help you, empower you, support you, and make it a bit easier on you and it is very rare, very very rare that there is nothing we can do to make it better for you.
To sum it all up, we are here and we are looking forward to meeting you, our future client, and developing a relationship of mutual trust and respect with you. Contact us today and get some sleep tonight?