What exactly is Citizens Advice?
Citizens Advice has two primary aims: to provide the information people need for the problems they face and to improve the polices and practices that affect people’s lives. It is a charity organisation which offers free, confidential, independent and impartial advice, via its website (www.citizensadvice.org.uk), web chat, a national telephone service, and in person. The charity provides information on a range of issues, including: benefits, work, debt and money, consumer, family, housing, law, immigration, tax and health. Where Citizens Advice cannot directly inform, it can provide details for partnering charities and helplines which may be able to give more specialist information.
How can Citizens Advice help Durham students?
As mentioned above, Citizens Advice provides information on a wide range of issues which may be of importance to university students. For example, students may contact Citizens Advice if they are experiencing problems with rented accommodation, employment or managing finances.
What sort of volunteer opportunities are available for Durham students?
There are numerous volunteer opportunities within Citizens Advice for Durham students. You can either volunteer for a few hours a week around your academic schedules, or you can volunteer for your local office over the summer. These volunteer positions include, but are not limited to…
Advisers: After receiving full training, you will be able to provide people with the information and guidance they need to deal with their problems. This can be in person, over the phone or via web chat.
Receptionists: As the public face of Citizens Advice, you will manage the reception of offices, greet clients and explain the services which are on offer.
Information assistants: You will help clients find the right information using the different facilities available, such as kiosks, PCs, benefits calculators and direct-dial phones.
Administrators: You will help the local Citizens Advice office run in a smooth and organised manner.
Financial education volunteers: You will work within the local community by holding education sessions, teaching people how to manage their money.
Campaigners: You use evidence from Citizens Advice clients to campaign for changes in local and national policies which can benefit everyone.
Fundraisers: You will help fundraise for the charity through organising events and making applications.
Why should students volunteer for Citizens Advice?
Below some student volunteers share their experiences of working for Citizens Advice.
Sophie Broddle, 3rd year Law, Josephine Butler:
“Originally I signed up to participate in pro bono work as I thought it would benefit me when it came to applications for law placements and jobs. Undoubtedly this did help me to secure a training contract, but three years later and I am still volunteering at Citizens Advice purely because I love the work I do there. It is great to get out of the Durham and to hear from people who have real problems rather than first world problems like should I go to shack or lloyds. I have been able to see the practical application of the law and learn about many aspects of life, that although aren’t all relevant to me now, may help in the future. The bureau is available to offer advice to locals in the surrounding area as a first port of call to hopefully help them resolve their issues. It is great to know that you are truly making a difference to someone’s life by just a ten minute phone call.”
Justin Humphries, 2nd year Law, Collingwood:
“As a law student citizens advice for me is a way in which I can compare law in books to law in practice. Also it’s an extremely humbling experience to know that you’re helping people make important decisions that can potentially change their lives. Really fun and friendly people work there too so from all sides it’s a great experience!”
Jack Muchlinski, 4th year Politics and French, Cuth’s:
“A lot is made of the student/ local divide in Durham, and it is partly because of this that I enjoy volunteering at citizens’ advice and giving something back to the wider community. The north-east is one of the most deprived parts of the UK and people face a variety of serious challenges, yet it is easy to forget that this is the case being a student in Durham. I feel that working at citizens’ advice has instilled me with a greater sense of perspective and it also provides an opportunity to immerse myself in something completely separate from studies and university life, which I find highly satisfying.”
Kitty Kirton, 3rd year Law, Collingwood:
“Citizens Advice enables me to use my knowledge of the law and understanding of how to apply it to help members of society. It is thoroughly rewarding to assist others and provide them with the advice they require.”
Sol Gelsomino, 3rd year Law, Grey:
“Volunteering at Citizens Advice has been an incredibly unique and rewarding experience. Every day brings new challenges but there is brilliant training and a strong support system that means you always leave feeling proud that you are able to help people with their problems. You also learn so much, not limited to the law. My confidence and ability to speak to people on the phone has improved so much since I began volunteering which will put me in good stead for the future.”
Do you need any prior experience to volunteer?
No – the only requirement for volunteering at Citizens Advice is an open-minded and non-judgemental attitude. Nevertheless, IT skills are desired in order to understand the database. Good communication is also important.
What sort of training is required?
Advisers undertake a number of weeks of training, which varies depending on how much time you are able to give to the organisation. Training covers all of the principle areas in which clients need information.
How much commitment is required?
There is no minimum time requirement to volunteer with Citizens Advice, but check your availability with the manager at your local branch.
How can a student get involved?
To find out more about volunteer opportunities at your local Citizens Advice branch, you can have a look at their website. You can also use this website to find details of your local office so that you can contact them directly.
How can you contact Citizens Advice with a problem?
You can find information on the Citizens Advice website, which is regularly updated. You can also visit your local office, which can be located using the website. In Durham city, there is a Citizens Advice office at 54 North Road.
Adviceline (National phone service): England: 03444 111 444 Wales: 03444 77 20 20