Advocacy has an important role to play in supporting people to express their views. This consultation seeks view on a revision to the Guide for Commissioners last published in 2010. The Guide has been updated to reflect Commissioner's statutory responsibilities for the provision of independent advocacy.

11. Supporting Independent Advocacy

11.1 There is now a much greater emphasis on partnership between commissioners and providers of services, and a greater recognition that commissioners and planners are responsible for enabling and facilitating the work of service providers, not just negotiating and paying for it. Advocacy organisations will benefit from support in various aspects of their work.

11.2 The Engagement Matrix is a tool launched in February 2013 for health boards and third sector organisations to use together to map and improve engagement between them. A web-based resource to aid third sector and health board engagement is also available at:

11.3 While it is entirely healthy and desirable for advocacy organisations to secure their funding from a number of sources - including charitable trusts and local communities - it is essential that organisations have reliable core funding. This should run for at least three years.

11.4 Development and Problem Solving Assistance

11.4.1 Initial support may be needed to get the advocacy organisation off the ground. This is traditional community development work - getting people together round the table and finding common cause; clarifying values, aims, methods and relationships; putting together a constitution for the organisation and drawing up a plan of action.

11.5 Commissioners should encourage organisations to adopt and maintain good management practices, perhaps by linking them with generic agencies such as councils for voluntary service or with schemes which provide secondments from larger private or public sector organisations. Particularly where only one post is funded, it is worth budgeting for external management supervision in the early years of the organisation.

11.6 Support for volunteer management

For those organisations using volunteer advocates commissioners should ensure that they have sufficient resources for effective volunteer management and development.

11.7 Support for co-operations, networking and renewal

11.7.1 Advocacy organisations benefit from exchanging ideas and providing mutual support. There is also scope for more formal joint work through joint training, concerted efforts to promote advocacy locally and through jointly-managed projects.

11.7.2 Everyone benefits from some form of local networking and information exchange, but this does need to be facilitated. Where there is not already an effective local network, it is worth commissioners providing some modest funding for this through a suitable and acceptable local 'honest broker'.

11.7.3 The essential requirement here is acceptability; the network needs to be owned by the people/organisations involved, and they have to decide which organisations they trust to take on a facilitating role.

11.7.4 Commissioners should also encourage advocacy organisations to spend time on renewal. Organisations may need opportunities to reflect on their work and reconnect with what they are trying to achieve. This may include: review days, development days, team building, regular planning sessions and review of the management arrangements of the organisation. Independent external facilitation may be helpful for some of these areas. Regular timescales for these events could be built into the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

11.7.5 Revisiting and renewing the connections between advocacy organisations and their impact on the service systems may also be beneficial for existing advocacy organisations. Are the projects still connected in the best way to the decision making processes on future services? Are staff in the organisation responding to the issues the organisation is taking forward?

11.7.6 Commissioners can support this process by:

  • building in funding for this purpose
  • providing information on maintaining good management practice and reviewing policies and procedures
  • listening and responding when organisations call for change in the agreements or their own structure as a result.

11.8 Getting the relationship right

11.8.1 Commissioners have a duty to clarify expectations and lines of accountability. It is easy to impose onerous reporting and accountability requirements on small advocacy organisations - they need the money and may agree to unrealistic targets to get it. Commissioners should encourage organisations to be realistic, especially in the first year.

11.8.2 Above all, commissioners should recognise that the primary accountability of any advocacy organisation is to the people it serves. The organisation is accountable to commissioners for how it spends public money, and should be expected to report fully on this. But commissioners do not own the organisation and should do what they can to encourage the organisation to maintain its independence.

11.8.3 Commissioners should not seek to control the advocacy organisation but should take the lead in establishing a relationship of mutual respect where both sides recognise that the other one has a valid and different role.

11.8.4 It is valuable to have regular meetings where the organisation presents a face-to-face report on what they have been doing. This allows genuine concerns about performance to be discussed at an early stage, on the basis initially of 'what can we do to help you?'

11.8.5 Commissioners should not expect the organisation to behave like a direct service project, and especially not like a direct service within a big structure like the NHS. It should be recognised that advocacy organisations will operate in slightly different ways to meet the needs of the individual.

11.9 Training, Expertise and Resources

11.9.1 Commissioners may be able to help or suggest local sources of help with issues such as:

  • training for management committee members/Directors/Trustees
  • training for paid and unpaid advocates
  • training in people's rights including the rights of children
  • developing policies - for example on equal opportunities, complaints handling, confidentiality, recruitment and selection of staff and volunteers
  • dealing with allegations of abuse
  • setting up office systems and computers
  • setting up systems of financial management, and providing training

11.9.2 Commissioners should work in partnership with advocacy organisations to provide training about advocacy. It is imperative that commissioners make sure that the role of advocacy is understood by statutory sector staff. Many statutory sector staff see themselves as the 'natural advocate' for their clients, however this would not be considered independent advocacy. It is important that staff understand the difference.

11.9.3 Commissioners should ensure that statutory sector staff are briefed about the advocacy organisations working in their area and how to make a referral to the advocacy organisations.

11.9.4 Training should also be provided to senior planners and directors to highlight the benefits of advocacy and how it fits in with the wider national policy and legislative context.

11.9.5 Commissioners may also be able to provide or suggest sources for premises, equipment, photocopying, graphic design, promotion/public relations etc. This may be particularly helpful in the first year.

11.9.6 Commissioners should be aware when people need advocates to negotiate what should be routine encounters with service system, and should raise these issues with service providers.

11.9.7 Commissioners are also in a position to help negotiate protocols between advocacy organisations and service providers, for example on:

  • access: some advocacy organisations find people who need advocates simply by going into institutional settings and meeting people who are particularly isolated and at risk
  • complaints: if staff of the service provider have a complaint or a concern about the conduct of an advocate, where do they go?
  • confidentiality: what can the advocate say about the person who needs advocacy, and to whom?
  • access to information: who decides who can see what sort of information about a patient?
  • handling conflict: where advocates are representing someone's serious concerns

11.9.8 Commissioners can help to raise the profile of advocacy by ensuring that it gets a mention in wider policy documents and debates. Commissioners can ensure that the role of advocacy is understood by staff that will come into contact with schemes and projects, by assessing training on advocacy.

11.10 Keep support under review

11.10.1 Check out with local organisations what support they need and want - both individually as part of the review cycle and collectively.

11.10.2 There are several ways in which commissioners can support the development of new advocacy organisations:

  • providing access to appropriate training for all staff.
  • funding for external support and supervision for the coordinator of the organisation
  • help in adopting and maintaining good management practice and developing policies and procedures. This can be provided by other bodies such as the local council for voluntary organisations
  • support networking with useful organisations. Funding could be provided to support a local advocacy network
  • funding should be invested in creating an infrastructure for advocacy and awareness raising


Email: Sandra Falconer

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