Citizens Advice believes that no-one should face problems without good quality advice. Hear how Aviva is helping them provide it.
Jigsaw puzzles are simple things. You have a picture divided into pieces, and your job is to put it back together. You know what the end goal is. Every piece has its own specific spot to get there. You just click it into place, piece by piece.
Sounds straightforward, doesn't it?
But what do you do if you can’t see the picture you’re heading toward? What if your 1,000-piece puzzle only comes with 900 pieces? What if there’s more than one puzzle jumbled up in the box?
The world is changing at a pace we’ve never seen.
The UK’s evolving role in the global economy, advances in technology and the effects of a changing climate are impacting how we live, work and travel.
Change can be scary, but these changes also present real opportunities. We need to make sure these opportunities are available to everyone.
We already help our customers deal with life's changes and shocks; it’s the reason we exist.
Whether that’s helping people prepare for retirement, protecting belongings or supporting health, we help our customers look forward with confidence. But we want to make sure no-one is left behind.
That’s why, in 2022, Aviva donated £7 million to Citizens Advice. To help them give people the knowledge and the confidence they need to find their way forward - whoever they are, and whatever their problem.
Life can be like that sometimes, too. Simple on the surface, overwhelming complexity underneath.
You might need to piece together housing laws to keep a roof over your head, or employment rights so you’re not taken advantage of. You might spend whole weeks on the trickier bits to make sure your benefit entitlements can keep food on your table.
Sometimes you need someone to help you sort through what you need to do. A friendly voice to guide you through the process of making those pieces click together.
That’s where Citizens Advice comes in.
What is Citizens Advice?
Citizens Advice was set up in World War II to help people with the new challenges of a society at war. Whether you’d lost your ration book or needed help finding a missing family member, Citizens Advice was there to help.
Over the eight decades since, Citizens Advice has remained at the heart of local communities across England and Wales, helping to meet their changing needs in difficult times. They’re made up of the national charity and a network of around 250 local independent charities.
Recognising the role Citizens Advice plays for people, and the help they need to continue to play it, Aviva stepped up in 2022 with a donation of £7 million to support their work.
So, what does that work look like?
Well, in 2021-2022, Citizens Advice helped more than 2.5 million people solve their challenges with one-to-one advice. That includes 183,000 people face-to-face, and almost two million people over the phone. They also had over 40 million visits to their online advice website.
With numbers that big, it’s easy to forget that each of them is a real person, needing advice on real problems.
Mariam is the Core Services Manager for a local Citizens Advice in North and West Gloucestershire. She and her team are working flat-out to help people in their area – both face-to-face and over the phone – with the problems they’re facing.
... during the summer holidays we’re getting calls where people are struggling to feed their children, because they’ve got to feed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"Traditionally, it’s benefits and debt.” Mariam shared. “Those have always been the top two. In the last eight or nine months, energy bills have become the second. There are so many people on prepayment meters who are sitting there with no heating during the winter months.
“While that slows down a little bit in the summer, during the summer holidays we’re getting calls where people are struggling to feed their children because they’ve got to feed them breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
"Rents are going up. Obviously, mortgage rates are sky high. People can't afford to pay the mortgage or are getting into rent arrears...
“So, there's a whole host of issues that have come to light that have been a direct result of the cost of living, which we’ve never had to deal with to the levels that we're dealing with today."
How is Aviva helping?
Transcript for video Annie talks about why Aviva chose to support Citizens Advice
Aviva has chosen to support Citizens Advice, as we think Citizens Advice is doing such important work in our communities.
To come to the partnership, we did lots of listening in communities with community members and charities and thought deeply about the kind of difference Aviva could make. And what we heard from Citizens Advice was just a huge capacity need on the front line of their services.
So at Aviva we are really interested in the national picture, but also in having an impact deep in the communities that we live and work in across the country.
So we're funding about 50 frontline advisors who are out there now giving advice on lots of different issues.
"Aviva has chosen to support Citizens Advice because we think they’re doing such important work in our communities.” Annie, Sustainability and Social Impact Manager at Aviva, said.
“To come to the partnership, we did lots of listening with community members and charities and thought deeply about the kind of difference Aviva could make, and what we heard from Citizens Advice was just a huge need for more capacity on the front line of their services.”
“We are really interested in the national picture at Aviva, but also in having an impact deep in the communities that we live and work in. So, we're funding about 50 frontline advisers who are out there now giving advice on lots of different issues.”
Hand on heart, if it wasn't for [the full-time adviser], we would be struggling. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to deliver. There would be a lot of people struggling a lot more.
One of those full-time advisers is based in Mariam’s office.
"Hand on heart, if it wasn't for [the full-time adviser], we would be struggling.” Mariam said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to deliver. There would be a lot of people struggling a lot more.
“So, in terms of the difference to grassroots, it’s invaluable. And that's just one person in my area.”
Annie shared more on how the funding is being used:
“The other part of our funding is going towards digital services. So, something we really uncovered from listening to Citizens Advice was that they think there's room to help more people if they could access better digital advice.
“We really wanted to support them to better those services, to ultimately protect their front line and to make space for their advisers.”
The balance is important. We know that digital advice can take the strain off advisers, but those advisers are still crucial.
Beyond providing the human touch – a compassionate voice, a reassuring word – Citizens Advice advisers can help those people who can’t use digital services.
Transcript for video Mariam shares an example of someone Citizens Advice has helped
I’ll give you an example of a client I actually dealt with during COVID, and I'll always remember this because this guy was dismissed unfairly from work after 15 years.
But the client couldn't read and write, was slightly illiterate and didn't understand forms and things that he was given. You know, “sign this.” And he’d just sign.
After I heard his story, I knew that he wasn't dealt with in the right way. He couldn't be instantly dismissed.
We managed to get him three months... because he'd been there for 15 years... they were only going to give him one week's notice pay.
So in the end, the end story would be that he got three months pay and he got severance of £10,000.
And to me, whilst it took me three months to deal from beginning to end... You think, ‘that is the reason why you're here today.’ To help these people who have no voice, who don't understand forms, perhaps people who find things, simple things, quite intimidating.
Whereas perhaps myself and people who work in [Citizens Advice] simple things to us could be dealt with very quickly
“I’ll give you an example of a client I dealt with during COVID,” Mariam said. “I'll always remember this.
“This guy was dismissed unfairly from work after 15 years. But he couldn't read and write, and he didn't understand the forms he was given.
“You know, they would say “Sign this.” And he’d just sign.
“After I heard his story, I knew that he wasn't dealt with in the right way. He couldn't be instantly dismissed.
“He'd been there for 15 years, but they were only going to give him one week's notice pay. In the end, we managed to get him three months’ pay, and he got severance of around £10,000.
“To me, while it took me three months to deal with from beginning to end, you think… that is the reason you're here today, to help these people who have no voice.”
What does Aviva get out of the partnership?
“I think it's quite core to Aviva’s purpose.” Annie said.
“We exist today to give people a better tomorrow. I think the partnership is trying to extend that reach to everyone.”
“Whether during challenging times or otherwise, we want to ensure everyone in the UK has access to the support, guidance, and resources they need to face the future with confidence."
Beyond that shared ambition, Annie explained that Aviva gains a lot from the partnership.
“Things like volunteering opportunities for our people, which we do because we want to support local Citizens Advice offices, but we also know that our people get an incredible benefit from taking part in that. It helps them understand their roles in the business better, through seeing the lives of other people and how they're interacting with finances.
“We also get to have this great relationship with Citizens Advice.
“We get to talk to each other, understand each other, and offer our expertise and guidance - both ways round.
“So, we're getting a huge amount of understanding, insight and ability to think differently about our own propositions from working with Citizens Advice.”
When it comes to understanding, Mariam shared the one thing she wishes everyone knew about Citizens Advice.
Transcript for video Mariam shares the one thing she wishes everyone knew about Citizens Advice
We are a charity. We are not a government-run organisation.
We rely on donations. We rely on grants that are given to us, whether it's through yourselves, through Aviva...
So that's that's the main thing that we have to fight for the funding that we get to keep ourselves going year on year.
I think the challenge is always going to be with funding.
You know, we want to think to three years, are we going to be able to maintain this service? And if we're not able to maintain this service, what on earth is going to happen to the clients that need us on a day to day basis?
"Easy. We are a charity.
“We are not a government-run organisation. We rely on grants. We have to fight for the funding that we get to keep ourselves going year on year.” Mariam explained.
“In two or three years, are we going to be able to maintain this service? And if we're not able to maintain this service, what on earth is going to happen to the clients that need us on a day-to-day basis?”
Annie shared a similar sentiment. “So many people assume Citizens Advice is a government body or well-funded by thousands of businesses that send their customers there. But that isn't the case.”
“They’re acting on such slim resources to deliver such amazing things. They’re really, really inspirational.”
Transcript for video Annie shares her own feelings about Aviva supporting Citizens Advice
It makes me feel really proud that we're supporting Citizens Advice.
I think from my own personal perspective, often these types of partnerships can have lots of different drivers, but it really feels to me authentic from Aviva to really put that money on the front line.
To kind of say “There is a gap, and you're asking for help, and we just want to help you with that gap. We don't want to create a big yellow platform to do something new and jazz-hands We really want to stand with you in these difficult times.”
And that makes me really proud of the partnership and Aviva’s role in it.
“It makes me feel really proud that we're supporting Citizens Advice.” Annie continued.
“I think from my own personal perspective, often these types of partnerships can have lots of different drivers, but it really feels authentic to me from Aviva to really put that money on the front line, to say ‘There is a gap, and you're asking for help, and we just want to help you. We don't want to create a big, branded platform to do something new and jazz-hands. We really want to stand with you in these difficult times.’
“That makes me really proud of the partnership and Aviva’s role in it.”
If you find yourself in difficult financial times, remember that you don't have to try to solve things alone. Mariam sent out a heartfelt message for anyone struggling.
“The first step is to just pick up the phone. Ask for help. It's okay to ask for help.
"We’re impartial, we have no hidden agenda. We don't judge people. Citizens Advice is a free service, and our goal is to help and do the best that we can for that person.”
With decades of experience, the added support from Aviva, and people like Mariam and her team, Citizens Advice are there to help you find a way forward through the puzzles and challenges that life has thrown your way.