Citizens Advice uses video technology to reach more people in Honiton

  Posted: 03.05.21 at 11:14 by Philippa Davies

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Honiton residents will soon be able to get advice on debt, benefits, housing and a host of other issues via a live video chat with a Citizens Advice adviser.

Citizens Advice East Devon is installing video booths in food banks, job clubs and community centres across the district.

In Honiton, they are expected to be at the Foodsave premises in Honiton Family Church and Blackdown House, the HQ of East Devon District Council.

It means users of any of those services can be connected up immediately with someone who can help tackle the root of their problems, so fewer people will slip through the net.

The chief executive of Citizens Advice East Devon, Tim Bridger, said up until now, food banks or unemployment support groups might recommend that their users call Citizens Advice, but couldn’t be sure they would do so.

“Now, they can sit down in front of a computer and send a text saying where they are and an adviser will appear on the screen and talk to that person.”

Citizens Advice is interested in hearing from other organisations that would like to host a video advice booth; they’re asked to contact the frontline team on 01395 265 070.

Other projects for the year include online courses in money management and financial planning, along with a video course demonstrating simple cookery, aimed at people on a tight budget. There will be projects around mental health and wellbeing, and an ‘early warning’ system so that if someone is helped with a problem and then has another crisis, Citizens Advice volunteers will be ready to respond.

How the Covid pandemic brought positive change

Tim said even before the coronavirus crisis, he’d been thinking about how Citizens Advice could modernise its way of working.

He said: “It wasn’t a great model, it relied on an awful lot of chance, I was already thinking that wasn’t the best way of doing things, and when lockdown came in I had the chance to put into place some quite ambitious plans we were already working on to move towards a much more digital innovative service model.”

It meant Citizens Advice was able to respond to the spike in demand for Covid-related help and advice with a fast, efficient system that no longer involved face-to-face meetings in its branch offices.

“Within two weeks we’d put in place an answerphone service, an [email protected] email address, a text short code, a messenger service on Facebook and a direct referral process for partners, meaning 24 hours a day anyone who needs our help has a channel to contact us and we will always phone them back the next day.”

Citizens Advice is funded through grants from the district and town councils, and has also received funding from the National Lottery which paid for the computer equipment for the video links.

Tim said with more digital courses being developed, the video booths and greater involvement with other support organisations, the future working model will spend public money more effectively.

“We’re developing services that wrap around the client. My vision is that we help them earlier, we keep working with them for longer, we’ll be better able to signpost them to other sources of support by being open to what everyone in the community is doing.”

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