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How Citizens Advice can help you

May 15 2018
Here’s how to get the best out of Citizens Advice (CAB), Gateway Assessor Michael Bowden

Here’s how to get the best out of Citizens Advice (CAB), from a Gateway Assessor

I started volunteering for the Haringey Crutch project in 2016. This helps people who need help with food, clothing and finding work. I then trained to be a CAB Gateway Assessor, which involves assessing a person's problem, agreeing the most appropriate next step and referring them to the next appropriate advice session if needed.

Meeting a gateway assessor is the best way to make contact. These trained volunteers can arrange appointments with Citizens Advice specialists. They also signpost people to local authorities, charities, day centres, night shelters, winter shelters, bed and breakfasts, women’s refuges and places for 16–25-year-olds.

Find a CAB office by asking at a library or a person working at a hostel/shelter. Or find the local address and location online.

Meeting someone face-to-face is always better than talking over the phone. The drop-ins and appointments with a specialist are free, but they are on a first-come-first-served basis.

Get to your local Citizens Advice office early to avoid being turned away. But if you do get turned away in the morning because of the sheer number of people waiting to be seen, you can come back in the afternoon and wait in line again.

Phone and online advice is available. Some Citizens Advice provide an email service. Others are piloting text, webchat and webcams.

The telephone advice works like most phone services. Be patient: being held in a queue on the phone, and other waiting times, are unfortunately a part of most services.

Tel: 03444 111 444 for England; 0808 800 9060 for Scotland


What you need

Be as prepared as possible before going to a CAB meeting. Write down the details of your problem and bring all relevant paperwork. For housing problems bring rental tenancy agreements and letters from a landlord. Bring mortgage details if there is one; any court papers; title deeds if a homeowner; and, wage slips, benefits letters or tax credits to show proof of income.

To meet a gateway assessor you wait in the queue outside with everyone else. The first 15 to 20 people get a numbered ticket and they then wait in the waiting room. When their number comes up, an assessor meets and greets them and the two go into an office to discuss the problem. Getting an appointment with an expert advisor works slightly differently, in that the gateway assessor books the person in the diary. This is where the waiting can take place. It depends on availability as there are limited slots.


Tips if you're homeless

Local authorities have a legal duty to help certain homeless people, or those threatened with homelessness.

You will need to:

Arrange a same-day interview with a local authority housing officer if nowhere to stay at night.

Take documents to prove identity, status, benefits and letters explaining why homeless.

An agency referral is often needed to get a space at a hostel or night shelter. A person can usually move into a ‘direct access’ hostel straightaway.

Collect free food from food banks, soup kitchens & day centres. CAB provides food vouchers.

Some day centres have visiting doctors, nurses, dentists and opticians. To register with a doctor and claim benefits, you can use family or friends’ addresses, a hostel, a day centre, or the doctor’s surgery.

A Simple Payment Card resolves the problems of not having a bank or Post Office account. Benefits are paid on to the card which can be used at some newsagents and shops.

Local councils may help with storage if they provide you accommodation.

Contact the Dogs Trust to find out which hostels are dog friendly, and which charities have pet fostering services.

To register to vote you need to provide proof of identity, and if of no fixed abode you can use the address where most time is spent. You will need to fill in a ‘Declaration of Local Connection’ form from their local council. Be ready for the next election, by using this