This blog serves to promote Citizens Advice1We’re talking about local branches of Citizens Advice that sit underneath the ‘umbrella’ bodies of Citizens Advice [England and Cymru – Wales], Citizens Advice Scotland, and Advice NI which took over the 13 Citizens Advice branches in Northern Ireland in 2018. and the work they do around digital inclusion, digital capability and financial inclusion. I want to share some information, resources and case studies and hopefully inspire a little joint working.
A good result for me would be that somebody somewhere picks up the phone or drops an email to a colleague and says “Hey! Could we work together?” … and somewhere down the line, I hope more people in communities will benefit from that collaboration.
Citizens Advice workers are meeting with millions of people every year who’ve got into difficulties with family, housing, money or as consumers (and a whole host of other issues). Increasingly the kind of help that Citizens Advice offer may be through digital means or involve introducing someone to a new digital service.
Citizens Advice help people who may be additionally at risk of digital exclusion or need to improve their Essential Digital Skills in order to overcome the issue they’re facing. From Help To Claim support for Universal Credit (the government’s digital-by-default benefits system), to help with managing debts, online scams or choosing the best energy supplier – Citizens Advice are on hand to help people find solutions to (increasingly digital) problems.
For example, here’s a great post from them about how disabled people aren’t having a great time with home delivery services, with 2 in every 3 people experiencing a problem with their parcel drop-off. Citizens Advice suggest solutions as to how making online ordering processes more accessible and improving information and training for delivery drivers could significantly improve their experiences.
Citizens Online have worked closely with branches of Citizens Advice in the past and in every local project we’re now involved with. Broadly there are two ways in which Citizens Advice teams have helped us with digital inclusion work in their areas:
1. Representing on strategic groups to help tackle digital exclusion
Citizens Advice services understand the local landscape of community needs well. They might represent on a Digital Inclusion Network / Partnership Board, but may also help shape services through other digitally related forums such as a Welfare Reform Working Group, Advice Partnership or Tackling Poverty agenda.
2. Training volunteers and staff as Digital Champions
Citizens Advice services are so well placed at the heart of communities with staff and volunteers available to support both on the phone and face to face. Training and supporting their teams to be better digital advocates and coaches can bring huge benefits to local communities by improving digital skills, confidence and motivation.
We often see Citizens Advice being at the heart of a local digital inclusion network, either as a delivery organisation with staff and volunteers helping out as Digital Champions, or as a strategic partner with deep insights into the local digital skills landscape:
Citizens Advice nationally
At the highest level, Citizens Advice are considering digital inclusion and skills as part of their Strategic Framework 2019-22, and how it relates to financial capability. It’s also interest to note just how embedded digital skills and expectations around the public’s capability to interact online are baked into their future plans for ‘seamless’ customer journeys:
They’ve also created a comprehensive guide on Digital Money Coaching – this one requires being in the know to some extent to use effectively; but it looks pretty comprehensive and useful if you’re a Citizens Advice worker doing any kind of digital based support around money management.
Citizens Advice Scotland produced a great bit of research in 2018 specifically covering Digital Inclusion issues for their customers, surveying more than 1200 people. They identified some of the main barriers that people perceived to be to going online and using online services:
Citizens Advice and Citizens Online local projects
We’ve done some great work in local areas with Citizens Advice too!
- Citizens Advice Gwynedd sat on our Digital Gwynedd Steering Group, encouraging and leading collaborative efforts across the county to tackle digital exclusion.
- They used information from our Baseline Evaluation of Digital Exclusion in Gwynedd to help plan project work and target resources.
- We worked together to train staff and volunteers as Digital Champions, offering them access to the Digital Champions Network (an eLearning resource and community hosted by Digital Unite.)
- A specific success was working with Citizens Advice to train their staff to deliver digital skills support alongside their advice work in communities. This was trialled as a pilot for three months but the ‘digital offer’ continued within the team after the pilot period finished.
- Gwynedd is a deep rural area of north Wales, and Citizens Advice Gwynedd were utilising a mobile bus to travel around the county and help with getting online and sorting out their wide ranging issues with money, debts and Universal Credit.
Brighton & Hove
- Citizens Advice Brighton & Hove also sat on our Steering Group in our Digital Brighton & Hove project, representing the local community and voluntary sector network within that forum and providing workers and volunteers to be Digital Champions.
- We worked together to run joint training sessions for their staff and volunteers covering digital inclusion and skills.
- They also developed a comprehensive online portal for benefits advice.
The CEO of the local Citizens Advice joined the Digital Plymouth DI Project Steering Group and contributed to the direction of the project.
We’re now working with various branches in different locations to try and join the dots between financial and digital capability, striking up collaborative efforts and supporting the development of digital inclusion networks in (amongst other places) Whitehill & Bordon, Dorset and Epping Forest.
We like to think of Citizens Advice as a key local partner in any effort to tackle digital exclusion, and it’s great to see that at both a national level and in some of the local branches, a natural fit has been found between the digital inclusion specialists, local authorities and those who offer essential advice to citizens.