Changing overnight – how Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice have developed their service during COVID-19

Citizens Advice volunteers now working from home

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23rd March that people would only be allowed outside to buy food, medication, exercise once a day and only travel to work, if necessary, Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice had to adapt its entire service to ensure the community could continue to access its vital support.

By 23rd March 2020, ACCA had already stopped their face to face services and had a plan in place to implement a new service delivered by staff and volunteers from their homes.

On the day of the announcement, paid members staff were working from their Bognor Regis office, answering the Adviceline and webchat, and calling back to previously arranged appointments, whilst eagerly awaiting the delivery of the mobile phones to be used by the volunteers.

Immediately following the announcement, all paid staff started working from home whilst the management team redirected all the phone lines, and gathered and delivered all the equipment needed (laptops, printers, phones, paper, envelopes) for the service to continue.

A month has now passed since the PM’s announcement, how are they doing so far? During this period, Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice have managed to help 1,313 people to deal with 2,367 issues, of which 1,155 were welfare benefit, 423 employment, 197 housing and 134 health and community care.

More than 400 of the benefit enquiries related to Universal Credit initial claims. 420 of the people helped had either a long-term health condition or a disability.

To put this into context – during 2018-2019, they helped 8,307 people to deal with 22,707 issues which was higher than the previous year due to the roll out of the Universal Credit Full Service. This equates to helping 692 clients a month. This month they helped 1,313 people.

To keep all their staff and volunteers up to date with the latest news and government updates, daily virtual briefings happen with the whole team and supervisors are on-hand to help at the click of a button.

The service has gone even further to identify volunteers who would also help deliver food parcels and top-up pre-payment meters to the shielded or self-isolated.

They have individually contacted every single volunteer, who was unable for a reason or another to provide the service from home, to make sure that they are okay and find out if they need support.

They’ve have now held their first online training session and plan to deliver more soon.

They’ll also be helping clients through video conferencing and screen sharing very soon.

By contracting with Language Line to support their advice service, they have also made sure that language is no longer a barrier in seeking advice. This service has proved essential for a Romanian couple who have lost their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus and needed assistance to access the food bank, applying for pre-settled status, seeking welfare support and communicating with their employer and landlord.

But some things haven’t been put on hold. Through all this, the management team has had to deal with end of year financial accounting, creating development plans, exit strategies, funding applications, dealing with stakeholders and prepare for their Leadership Self-Assessment.

Luca Badioli, CEO of Arun and Chichester Citizens Advice, says “it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our incredible volunteers and paid staff. We’ll continue to support the community through this difficult time whilst developing and improving our service.”

If you need help from Arun & Chichester Citizens Advice, you can call them on 0344 477 1171 or webchat through www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

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