What is Advice?

Dictionaries offer several definitions including:

‘An opinion that someone gives you about the best thing to do in a particular situation’ MacMillan

‘Opinion about what could or should be done about a situation or problem; counsel’ Free Farlex

‘A recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct; counsel’  Merriam Webster

And perhaps most simply:

‘A suggestion about what to do’ Vocabulary.com

These definitions adequately describe the kind of advice we all give and receive every day – whether it’s been asked for or not!

But in the context of advice services  we tend to mean something more; such as:

 ‘Assisting people to understand and exercise their options and legal rights by providing an independent, confidential and accessible service which delivers information, advice and or representation’ Cubis 2004

It falls within the realm of expert advice:

‘Advice given by someone who has studied a subject thoroughly..’ Collins

In 1977 the National Consumer Council even asserted that advice was ‘The Fourth Right of Citizenship’, saying that:

‘…the rights of citizenship are worth little without the right to education (understanding) and information. The two must go together. People will not be able to get their due as citizens of present day society unless they have continuous access to the information that will help guide them through it.’  

In recent years the internet has transformed access to information but the every-day business of modern life is now so complex that no individual can hope to understand the entire workings of all of the institutions, rules, choices and contracts they have to deal with. So all of us will need advice sometimes from someone who’s developed expertise in a particular subject. If money’s no problem, that advice can readily be bought. But for many of our citizens money is a problem.

Advice is relatively expensive but the costs of not getting the right advice when it’s needed can be much higher – for the individual, for families, for communities and, ultimately, for society at large.

The UK advice sector is unique in the world. It exists primarily to help people who are unable to pay for advice when they most need it. Because of this focus, the areas in which advice services have developed expertise are those which tend to be the cause of most problems for people who are less well-off. The subjects on which AdviceUK members and other advice agencies give advice therefore include:

  • Dealing with debts
  • Income maximisation
  • Welfare benefits
  • Housing rights
  • Employment rights
  • Consumer problems
  • Immigration and Asylum
  • Pursuing complaints and appeals
  • Family and children’s rights
  • Disability rights
  • Problems arising from particular health conditions
  • Social care problems

These and other related subjects are often referred to as areas of Social Welfare Law. No single advice service will deal with all of these subjects. Indeed, some will specialise in only one, but many generalist services will be able to help with the first few topics in the above list – or be able to refer to somewhere that can.

It may sound melodramatic but advice can save lives. An inability to resolve complex drawn-out problems can lead to deep unhappiness, ill-health and desperation. Research has demonstrated that timely access to advice can have benefits beyond the alleviation of specific problems including maintenance of physical and mental health and well-being.

Advice Saves Lives – so if you need advice, it doesn’t matter who you are, don’t be afraid to ask for it

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