Developing Access to Advice
The Access Workstream of the Working Together for Advice (WTfA) Project aimed to achieve a 10% increase in the numbers of people able to obtain access to advice services. In order to realize this aim, we:
- developed new models of service delivery, focusing on how to improve clients’ initial contact with advice services.
- examined how best to ensure that particular groups of disadvantaged people can access advice
- developed methods to improve referrals between our members.
Research and consultations within the advice sector show that the main problem advice services and their clients experience is that demand exceeds supply. The Access Work stream acknowledges that lack of adequate funding for advice services lies at the heart of the supply and demand problem. However, we worked with advice agencies to devise methods of improving access which include enhancing the reception service; targeting disadvantaged groups, and managing work flow within the agency.
The Pilot Phase
Three particular models of access were tested by12 agencies from the AdviceUK, Citizens’ Advice and Law Centres’ Federation networks. These models enabled the pilot agencies to:
- make reception work: improve the client’s initial contact with the advice service
- develop community partnerships: create links with organizations which serve a particular client group (e.g. young people) to improve access
- manage demand: adopt internal procedures which ensure that a client’s enquiry is managed effectively and referrals made where appropriate.
From our work with the pilot agencies, we found that:
- Many receptionists lack the training and support they need to fulfill their role, and reception is often an undervalued service within an advice agency.
- Some “hard to serve” groups may not use advice services because they are not aware of the services available and may be reluctant to approach an agency which is unfamiliar to them
- Some methods of dealing with demand may be inefficient in that they result in work being duplicated and in delays in the client’s enquiry being resolved.
What we have achieved
We identified a need for training to enable the pilot agencies to achieve the aims they had identified on joining the pilot programme. We have commissioned or produced training courses and guidance materials on:
- Reception skills
- The advice and access needs of young people
- Assessing eligibility for legal aid
- Recognizing discrimination queries
- Establishing a local referral network
Advice agencies participating in the pilot phase of the programme were helped to review the ways in which their clients gained access to the advice service and how they dealt with the queries they received. This resulted in changes within individual agencies such as the restructure of the reception service; the introduction of a triage service when clients called outside advertised advice times; the implementation of a diagnostic interview at the client’s first contact with the service; an enhanced referral arrangement between an advice service and a local youth organisation.
What we are leaving at the end of the project
We have produced guidance and training materials and a description of the work undertaken with the pilot agencies. These documents will be available in various formats – including an online training resource for reception staff – on the WTfA website from November. Click here to follow the link.
Getting past reception (ASA, 2008)
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