Defining Information and Advice
In considering advice it is important to stress that when people visit an advice centre the product they seek is not the service but the outcome. For example, if they go to an advice centre with a homelessness enquiry the product they want is not advice but a home. If they go for welfare benefits advice the product they want is the benefit. It is important to be able to manage these expectations and to be clear about the broader outcomes from receiving advice which are a better understanding of the options, rights and responsibilities and assistance taking action to resolve a problem.
Advice is likely to comprise some or all of the following components:
- Listening to clients
- Diagnosing the problem
- Giving information
- Advising on the options available
- Taking action on behalf of clients
- Negotiating on their behalf
- Representing clients' cases at tribunals and courts
- Referral where appropriate and
- Enabling or empowering the individual to take informed action on their own behalf
We have broken these activities down into three principal categories or types of intervention:
Type I - Active Information, Sign-posting and Explanation
This work refers to activities such as providing information either orally or in writing, sign-posting or referring the user to other available resources or services, and, the explanation of technical terms or clarifying an official document, such as a tenancy agreement or a possession order.
We make a distinction between the passive provision of information through the availability of leaflets, for example, in public places, libraries and so on, and active provision of information through providing assistance to the individual seeking assistance. These Standards are aimed at 'active' providers.
Type II - Casework
- A diagnostic interview where the problem and all relevant issues are identified and
- Making a judgement as to whether the individual has a case that can be pursued
Once it has been established that the individual has a case that can be pursued, activities may include:
- Setting out an individual's options or courses of action
- Encouraging the user to take action on their own behalf
- Providing practical aid with letters or forms
- Negotiating with third parties on the user's behalf
- Introducing the enquirer by referral to another source of help and
- Support to users in making their own case
Type III - Advocacy, Representation and Mediation at Tribunal or Court Action Level
This work includes a range of further actions arising from the casework undertaken above. This may have been undertaken by the adviser preparing the tertiary work or may have come to the adviser by referral from another organisation or adviser.
The principal activities may include:
- Advocacy and Representation - where the adviser may prepare a case for the user and represent or speak on their behalf at a tribunal or court.
- Mediation - where the adviser may act on behalf of the user by seeking to mediate between the user and a third party.
Type III work includes some activities that can only be undertaken by lawyers.
Advice and information providers often undertake a range of activities beyond one-to-one work with individuals in need. Often they may act for groups of individuals facing the same problems, such as a group of tenants on a particular estate facing similar problems of disrepair. They may also undertake other work, such as community development, where they may act a resource to other groups in their communities.
All information and advice providers are likely to undertake 'social policy' work at some level. We use a narrow definition of 'social policy work' commonly used in the advice sector. This definition suggests that advice agencies should collect information generated by individual casework activities and aggregate this in order to identify trends and emerging issues. It is likely that in many cases advice agencies will be able to gather considerable local intelligence through this route that would be of use to the providers or planners of other services. An example of this approach could include an increase in enquiries at an advice agency following recent changes in the administration of Housing Benefit. By making this information available to the managers of that service the advice agency may be able to secure changes and therefore prevent the problem affecting other individuals.
Methods of Delivery
The traditional, and still most common, method of delivering information and advice is from office or shop based premises. Normally, such services are static and provided from a single site. However, to expand service provision a number of organisations have developed other methods of delivery.
Surgeries or outreach sessions, where advice is delivered using other organisations' premises, has proved an effective means of targeting services at particular parts of the community. For example, if young people are not using a service it may be appropriate to offer advice sessions at a youth club.
Other methods of delivering advice may include offering a home-visiting service to those who could not otherwise attend a traditional advice centre, such as the elderly or those with impaired mobility. Home-visiting services have sometimes been applied in sparsely populated rural areas.
Mobile advice centres, where the advice is taken into different localities in a caravan or adapted van, have also been used in rural areas or other places where local transport is problematic.
The principles represented in these Standards are common to all of these means of delivery, although the way in which the principles are interpreted may be different. For example, if providing a home-visiting service, providers need to respect the conventions of the person whose home they are in. Further examples are given in the Good Practice guidance in Section 3 under the specific standards.
In addition, electronic means of delivering information and advice have proliferated in recent years, most notably those delivered by telephone. More recently there has been a growth in the use of the Internet and other digital technology to deliver information and advice.
This development is in line with the Government's vision as set out in 'Modernising Government' to ensure that, by 2008, all government services should be deliverable electronically.
To date, most use of IT has concentrated upon automating processes, such as case records, for example; the challenge for the future is to see how IT may be used to innovate processes to achieve the 'product' that the service user requires.
Alongside 'Modernising Government', the wider context for change is driven by a number of other factors.
The rate of take-up of this new technology is much faster than preceding technologies, such as the telephone. With the introduction of digital TV, the internet and television will begin to converge, taking access to information into every home.
The introduction of Broadband has increased the speed and portability of information.
The consequences for information and advice providers are likely to include:
- Information, guidance and expertise all being available for current advice topics over the internet, expanding the reach of services to areas where needs are currently unmet
- The continued development of the Internet as the first port of call for information for many. This is likely to lead to 'disintermediation', a move away from information brokers, where one-to-one services will have to provide a more sophisticated service with value added to any information given. For example, people may use travel agents to book a holiday where they are seeking advice on a destination, but will use on-line services to book a flight
- Routine and repetitive advice being systematised
- Raised expectations of what advice centres can provide with more high value and complex work being required from advice centres and
- Advice becoming more pro-active, getting information across at the right time in a legal process, before problems become complex or insurmountable
However, even with these new methods of delivery, the principles represented in these Standards remain relevant, though the way in which the principles are interpreted may be different.
Phone: 0300 244 4000
Central Enquiry Unit
St Andrews House