AdviceUK is the UK’s largest support network for free, independent advice centres. AdviceUK was formed in 1979 as the Federation of Independent Advice Centres (FIAC).
We were formed in 1979 as the Federation of Independent Advice Centres (FIAC) following meetings of groups of ‘independent’ or ‘community’ advice centres from around the country to discuss challenges they faced as separate locally-focussed organisations and whether creating a national co-ordinating body might increase their effectiveness. An inaugural event was held on 28th April 1979 at the Isaac Newton Primary School in North Kensington, London, to launch the new organisation. Delegates from London and the major conurbations such as Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham represented about half of the 200 or so independent advice projects reckoned to be in existence at that time.
The initial aim was to raise funds to develop common resources such as training, information sources and campaigning but such funds were a long time coming. The first two paid staff were eventually employed in 1983 following a grant from the Greater London Council. The first National Director was not employed until 1989. Meanwhile, membership grew steadily. In 1984, in the midst of the miners’ strike, membership increased by 80%, from 130 to 235. By 1994 it exceeded 800 and by 2000 it had been nearly 1,000.
Over the course of twenty years the desired common resources were gradually developed to include an insurance scheme, training and qualification routes for advisers and managers, organisational guidance and advice tools such as specialist support, reference works and case-management systems. These resources supported members in helping more than two million people a year through advice.
The years since the financial crash, however, have seen a gradual decline in advice capacity due to cuts to public spending which have seen funding for advice reduce by perhaps 30% and the number of services reduce by perhaps 25%. Nevertheless, AdviceUK membership has remained surprisingly buoyant at above 700 – in part because of new, often voluntary, projects seeking to fill gaps where established organisations have closed, merged or scaled-down. Among the new projects are some social enterprises seeking to avoid the financial vulnerabilities of grant funding with new business models aimed at better sustainability. Thus, independent advice providers continue to innovate as they have done since they initiated advice-work more than 100 years ago.
- 1979 – FIAC formed as an unincorporated association with approx. 100 members
- 1982 – FIAC professional indemnity insurance launched, building on a Sheffield members’ scheme
- 1983 – First grant income from Greater London Council and first two employees appointed
- 1986 – Incorporation as FIAC Ltd
- 1987 – Membership exceeds 300 and London Unit staff team has grown to 8
- 1988 – Charity registration
- 1989 – Learning to Advise and Managing to Advise courses developed
- 1992 – First National Director appointed – separate National and London Units
- 1994 – Membership exceeds 800
- 1996 – Steve Johnson appointed as National Director and later first Chief Executive
- 1997 – Office move to central London premises
- 1998 – Membership exceeds 900
- 2000 – FIAC becomes an NVQ assessment centre
- 2003 – The ‘AdviceUK’ operating name adopted
- 2004 – Revised Articles adopted and the company and charity names changed to AdviceUK
- 2006 – Subsidiary company ‘VCS Insurance Ltd’ formed to provide members’ PII cover
- 2007 – AdvicePro on-line case management system launched
- 2011 – Subsidiary company ACMS Ltd formed to take over provision of AdvicePro
- 2011 – Separate London Unit dissolved following partial cuts in London Councils funding
- 2012 – Closures and mergers of members gather pace as public spending cuts bite
- 2014 – Revised, more flexible, network membership scheme introduced and Trustees become the only company members
- 2014 – New corporate strategy adopted emphasising more future income from earnings
- 2015 – UK AdviceFinder on-line directory acquired, redeveloped and re-launched
- 2016 – Comprehensive governance review undertaken
- 2017 – Revised Articles adopted and Board succession plan commenced
- 2016-17 accounts show 80% of gross income from earnings
Throughout our history we, like our members, have had to be flexible and innovative in order to survive and continue delivering social value. We are now unusual amongst charity association bodies in having a relatively low dependency on grants for income. Our strategy since 2014 has been to assume that organisations of our type will in future have to be completely self-sustaining. Our plans are therefore focused on building a sustainable social business group that can complement and support the work of the core charity.
Our story since 1979 is just part of the history of the UK charitable advice sector – which has its roots in campaigns against urban poverty in the late Victorian era.