Citizens’ Advice Bureaux – worth a critique or a criticism?

The Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (CAB) is a bit of a sacred cow. And to be fair it, at least in part, deserves to be. I’ve called on it myself, long time ago (last millenium, infact, before the web) and received a good head start to resolve a dispute. But, it was just a start.

The Citizens’ Advice Bureaux (CAB) is a bit of a sacred cow. And to be fair it, at least in part, deserves to be. I’ve called on it myself, long time ago (last millenium, infact, before the web) and received a good head start to resolve a dispute. But, it was just a start.

In my area (debt advice) CAB are huge. Enormous. They genuinely help many thousands of people (and, thanks to a government grant, will now be able to help thousands more). But their offering has two big downsides. First (and I’ll come back to this) they don’t make distributions to creditors. Secondly, their advice (and support) is only as good as their advisors.

Yesterday was a case in point. A CAB advisor was on the phone. He had a citizen who was  a former client of ours but who had terminated her plan because her income had dropped severely and she could no longer afford the payments we had proposed to her creditors. If she’d not gone to CAB of her own accord, we’d probably have advised it.

Anyway, there was this CAB advisor on the phone, giving our ops manager a hard time because we could not provide some information he required to help his new client – instantly. “We’ll, I need it t the latest by tomorrow” – bang, down went the phone.

We pride ourselves on our client service (justifiably – check out our reviews on IVA.com) and we duly got everything together and rang him back early the following day. He wasn’t in. He wasn’t going to be in for the next few days. Was there anyone else who could help. Errr, no. Did anyone else know when he would be in? “We are just volunteers you know”. We await his call. I hope he is better than some of the other CAB advisors we have come across in the past, who tend to forget about any client other than the one who is sat in front of them right now – or has just been on the telephone.

I guess this is just one of the differences between a paid and an unpaid service: We have someone here to give advice and support between 8.00am and 9.00pm, five days a week (and a skeleton team at weekends), we have specialists who can deal with stuff like preventing home repossessions, once or twice on the day of the court hearing itself.

But, for me the biggest difference between them (CAB) and us (the fee-charging debt advice sector) is the fact that we have the people, systems sand processes to make distributions to creditors. Someone who goes to CAB will, in most cases, wind up with a great debt management plan, dealing with all their debts – but the client will then have to go away and cope with making the payments themselves. Given the stress and worry that has led to a client being in debt, I believe many just won’t. So, I believe a service where the debtor is reminded to provide the planned, affordable payment each month and then the distributions are made for him is, for many, something worth paying for.

I’d really welcome comments, maybe a debate on this.

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