The Citizens Advice Service has twin aims which are of equal importance:
• To provide the advice people need for the problems they face.
• To improve the policies and practices that affect people's lives.
Research and Campaigns work addresses the second of our aims. When a client contacts a local Citizens Advice, the root cause of their problem is often an unfair policy, practice or piece of legislation. Consider the tenant facing eviction because his landlord is in mortgage arrears, or the woman who was persuaded to take out payment protection insurance on her loan, even though the terms dictated she could never claim on it now retired.
The number of clients we work with each year makes it possible to spot trends and comment with authority on the strengths and weaknesses of different policies. The Citizens Advice Service is ideally placed to carry out this function through our nationwide network of more than 380 bureaux.
The Citizens Advice Service undertakes quantitative analysis of the 7 million or so problems recorded in our client database each year. We also undertake qualitative analysis of the 50,000 problems that bureaux draw our attention to specifically. Then we act. We raise the issues with those who are causing them and suggest how they could be avoided.
As well as giving a voice to our clients, our policy work ensures that new policies are based on evidence rather than assumptions, benefitting many more people than we could ever advise one-to-one. During 2009/10 alone we improved the situation of 9 million; four times as many as we advised.
Each year, bureaux submit over 42,000 client evidence forms to our national Citizens Advice office. Information from these forms helps us spot trends and collate evidence of policies or services which are not working. Citizens Advice writes and researches evidence reports and detailed responses to consultations, and also provides numerous briefings for MPs and Welsh Assembly Members.
Volunteer campaigners or social policy co-ordinators in local Citizens Advice Bureaux play a key role in collating evidence and raising the profile of policy concerns locally, regionally and nationally. Bureaux often get clients involved in campaigns by encouraging them to raise issues with their local councillors, MPs or Assembly Members.
Two examples of our national campaigning work are lobbying for a fair deal on prepayment meters, and for a fairer test of fitness for work for people claiming benefits.
Local campaigns undertaken by Enfield CAB include helping to establish a Welfare Benefits Forum for local organisations and gathering information on clients' problems with private rented accommodation.