Life as a Trainee Generalist Adviser at Citizen’s Advice
Over the past few months, I have undertaken a rigorous amount of training in which I have amassed knowledge of several key enquiry areas such as employment, benefits, debt, housing, consumer, family, and personal relationships. I had done volunteering before, but never did I imagine the scale of work – and thereby impact – that I would be able to have when advising at Citizens Advice Ipswich. Every day somebody walks in the door or calls us asking for help. You never know what your next case is going to involve, which, personally, is part of the thrill; it keeps it interesting, and it definitely keeps you on your toes! Yet, there is something incredibly terrifying about yielding as much power as you do as an advisor; the client has jumped a massive hurdle in contacting you for help and has bestowed their trust in you, when they are at their most vulnerable, to help them. So, when I drafted my first email response to a client this week, after completing my initial training, I was definitely feeling the pressure. Thankfully, my supervisors have been lovely and very supportive, giving me constructive feedback. Whilst the amount of training has been a bit overwhelming at times, the structure and LAR (Learning Assessment Records) as part of my training pathway have been very helpful, keeping me on track with my learning. Arguably, this, aside from engaging with clients, has been the most rewarding; at the CA you are constantly learning, with the way you give advice and the advice you give constantly evolving. It is this sustained evolution that prompts your development as an individual. I can safely say that I am not the same person I was when I began my training; my interpersonal skills, confidence, and empathy for others have grown. And it is this learning outside of the classroom that I have greatly appreciated, especially given that my extent of learning over this pandemic has been confined to staring at my laptop screen.
Having chosen to conduct a placement with Citizens Advice as part of one of my final year modules at Uni, I was expecting to be shut in an office performing admin duties, much like that of a paralegal, helping advisors by prepping for client interviews and casework. So, the opportunity to engage with real-life clients with real-world issues has been wonderful. Indeed, delving into the raw issues clients face is something that sparked my interest to pursue a career in law; being able to develop my advocacy skills and throw myself into the friction of real-life cases is an electrifying privilege. Further to this, being able to engage with clients has strengthened my commercial awareness: something that is highly sought after in the legal profession. Interestingly, I have found that issues clients face don’t always marry up with how the law is supposed to work in theory. For example, I’m currently doing a land law module and have discovered that, in reality, the rent system is broken, and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Also, I have learnt since working at the CA, just how much each of the different enquiry areas contradicts, support, and overlap each other; it’s a constant battle to provide the client with the most accurate, and appropriate, advice in regard to the question they are asking. In this respect, giving email advice is a bit like answering an IRAC problem question: you need to identify the specific issues the client is facing, consult AdviserNet and the Essential Information Questions Booklet (aka The Advisor Bible) to determine what the law says and apply this to the facts of the case. These kinds of problem-solving and brain-busting challenges have been something I’ve yearned for since starting back at Uni and are a welcome break from having my head stuck in textbooks or Westlaw!
What has intrigued me the most about working at the CA is their social research and campaign work; as an organisation, they’re proactive in research, helping people before they reach the point of needing advice. It means they have a closer understanding of the problems that people experience, improving the client journey. Of particular interest to me has been the work on welfare policy, including that of Universal Credit and disability benefits, and energy market turbulence with hikes in energy prices amid a recovering job market. For example, CA successfully campaigned for the £20 uplift of UC to be extended, has highlighted how the disabled were left behind during the pandemic, and its research has emphasised that since the energy price cap rose by almost £140/year for the average dual fuel customer, the number of people falling into debt is likely to rise. The opportunity to raise awareness about issues people are facing excites me, especially when I think about the impact it may have and how social research can help foster growth and innovative, and more importantly, informed, policy and legislative responses. As a carer for my mum, who is one of the thousands of disabled people that feel abandoned by the Government, especially in the wake of the pandemic, I am excited at the opportunity to work with CA and share her voice on the importance of a functioning health and social care system and welfare policy framework.
As I begin to advise more clients, I look forward to delving into more enquiry areas, participating in social research, and campaigning and championing legislative change.