Almost every town has at least one Citizens Advice office that is widely used by the community, but how much do you really know about this service? It was established in September 1939 as a war service to meet the needs of the civilian population. From the start volunteers ran the service working from public buildings and private houses and one even operated out of a converted horse box parked near bombed areas. Over seventy years later Citizens Advice has grown into the largest independent advice provider with over 2000 outreach locations in places such as doctors surgeries, libraries, community centres and village halls.
In the war years advisers dealt with problems relating to the loss of ration books, homelessness and evacuation. They also helped locate missing relatives and prisoners of war and debt quickly became a key issue as income reduced due to call-ups. Debt remains one of the top enquiry areas today, but for very different reasons. Despite the success of Citizens Advice Bureaux, funding from the Government was cut after the war, and it was thanks to the support of charitable trusts such as the Nuffield Foundation, Carnegie Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the service continues today, although it is increasingly dependent on grants and donations for its existence as Government funding reduces.
The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux changed its name to Citizens Advice and today the service is delivered from over 3,400 community locations in England and Wales, run by a network of over 360 independent registered local charities. The network relies on over 22,200 trained volunteers to keep the service running, and provides free face-to-face advice in the office, by phone, and via the internet. Visits to our citizensadvice.org.uk self-help website, have risen to over 11 million with more than two million people using our service for face-to-face or telephone advice.
In April 2015 Citizens Advice took on 2 new services. It now provides the face-to-face service for Pension Wise, and in some parts of the country the Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for witnesses in criminal courts in England and Wales. There is also a dedicated national consumer service provided by telephone (03454 04 05 06) and we also have qualified money advisers who can support people with debt problems.
Sudbury & District Citizens Advice, which is registered as an independent charity in its own right, also has a thriving Research and Campaigns team who use the data we collect to identify problems faced by the wider community to campaign for change and influence policy makers. This can be anything from benefit issues and consumer injustices, to problems with renting. We also promote national campaigns on such things as energy saving, scams, consumer advice and raising awareness of domestic violence and control. You will probably see us with our stand, in a range of venues throughout Sudbury.