‘Despite difficulties and challenges, staff and volunteers pulled together to continue providing a much-needed service’

Posted on the 7th June 2021

At Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade (CALL), we’re part of the national network of Citizens Advice offices. We’ve been giving quality advice and information to local people in Leighton Buzzard and the surrounding areas for almost 45 years.

We have a volunteer team of about 50 people and seven paid staff, most of whom are part-time. In 2019, we saw more than 2,500 different local people with over 10,000 issues including:

  • debt
  • employment
  • consumer rights
  • benefits claims
  • housing.

The Citizens Advice service provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. We help people overcome their problems and campaign on big issues when their voices need to be heard.

We value diversity, champion equality, and challenge discrimination and harassment. We’re here for everyone and we rely on the support provided by our volunteers.

Office

Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

How the pandemic has impacted our services

The pandemic has had a huge impact on our ability to deliver our services. Many of our volunteers have been unable to come into the office. We’ve also had to restrict the number of advisers able to work in-person as we follow government covid-secure guidelines.

At the start of the pandemic and during the first lockdown, we faced challenges with resources and capacity. Despite this, staff and volunteers pulled together to continue to provide a much-needed service to our local community.

We have seen peaks and troughs in demand correlating with the different stages of the pandemic. There’s certainly been an increase in the need for employment advice as people worry about the security of their jobs and income. The furlough scheme will have softened the effects but there is huge concern about the impact when that support ends.

We’re also concerned about the impact of the subsequent lifts on stays on creditor action, repossession and evictions. We’re doing our best to make sure our service is ready and able to meet those needs when they come.

In the last year, we’ve faced many challenges as a small organisation that relies on the generosity and time of our incredible volunteers. We’ve all had a steep learning curve – advising by telephone brings challenges for clients who have difficulties with language or technology. Our volunteer advisors have had to quickly grasp the new legislation and regulations arising from government intervention.

Staff have had to deal with the challenges of remote access with outdated equipment, juggling meeting the needs of the advisers, clients, partners and other stakeholders – to ensure a joined-up service which serves the needs of our community. Our volunteer trustees have had to grapple with meeting, recruiting, and interviewing completely online.

Despite this, with the support of our amazing volunteers, we’ve provided a vital lifeline to so many people and I’m hugely proud of our CALL family and what we’ve achieved.

Thank you to all our volunteers and to everyone who has volunteered during this challenging year.

Tony’s reflections on volunteering in the pandemic

Tony-Bryant

'For me, a big change arising from the pandemic is contact with clients - being by phone rather than face to face. This results in a loss of the information gained from the clients facial expression but, I suspect, an increase in empowering clients rather than taking action myself.

The second change is a reduction in debt cases, presumably arising because of the various “holidays” re: interest payments, evictions and such . Will there be a tsunami (of demand in debt advice services from CA) when these “holidays” end?'

Tony Bryant – Volunteer advisor, Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

Kash Karimzandi

Chief officer at Citizens Advice Leighton-Linslade

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