A day in the life of… a Money Advice volunteer

“This morning I calculated the benefits that one of my service users might be entitled to both now, and if they worked more hours. It’s amazing how such a complicated system is simplified using an online tool that’s easier than getting a car insurance quote. Probably more reliable too. I ran several ‘what ifs’ and that it me that my service user wouldn’t be any better off under the new system, which is useful to know for next time we meet. Especially as they are no worse off either, so one thing I can do is genuinely reassure that there’s no need for them to be apprehensive about it. This calculator can be found at http://www.entitledto.co.uk/benefits-calculator/Intro

It all sounds dull as dishwater but actually, because it’s for a person that I know I can help, and I know that they are increasingly anxious about Universal Credit, it’s one way I can really help them.

“Much of what we do is about helping people overcome their anxieties about financial stuff. Sometimes it concerns them needing to revise a benefit claim, which perhaps they are putting off as they are worried about it in case it will reduce their income; sometimes it’s about them gathering enough courage to contact an organisation they owe money to, let them know what’s happening and what they can pay and when, which keeps things under control.

Sometimes it’s as simple as talking through where their money goes and helping them stand back and look at what they are doing. As a Money Advice volunteer it’s almost never about doing things for people, surprisingly. The meeting I had today involved a lot of listening, the debunking of a few myths and worries, some gentle reminding about priorities and yes, some asking of a few hard questions. Odd really, but I find silence is my most powerful tool. By being ready to sit and wait, often the service user will open up and share much more than their initial answer to a question.”

“Today’s meeting also involved a phone call to a benefits agency. The call was on loudspeaker, so both my service user and myself could talk to the agent. On such calls I usually have to start the call off, but I always try and gently pass the reins over to my service user as I feel very strongly that I’m only truly successful if I get them to do things for themselves, so that next time, when I’m not there, they can and will do it for themselves.”

“That’s what happened today, I sat silently for 10 minutes as they worked out what the problem was. All I did was start things, then sit and smile and nod occasionally and my service user sorted it. My experience tells me that their confidence in such interactions will now be a tiny bit greater and they are more likely to not need my help next time. One more little step towards the job being done.”

Click here if you think you would like to support us in volunteering with any of ACT’s services – it’s really rewarding; I totally feel as if I’m giving something back.”