Advice work could suit you if you have great interpersonal skills, can relate to people from different backgrounds, and are resourceful when helping others reach solutions to problems

As an advice worker, you will provide free, impartial, confidential advice and information to clients on a range of issues.

There are usually no restrictions on the people who can use the services of an advice worker, although some agencies may restrict who they can help based on their target customers and funding requirements.

Advice is generally provided through face-to-face, telephone, email and web-chat services. You could be based in a variety of settings including community centres, doctors' surgeries and courts and prisons, as well as in dedicated advice or call centres.

Types of advice worker

You will usually work as a general adviser covering legal and financial topics such as:

  • debt;
  • employment;
  • housing;
  • welfare and education.

Alternatively you could specialise in one area and offer more in-depth help, possibly by carrying out casework on behalf of clients.

Responsibilities

As an advice worker, your work will typically fall into six broad categories:

  • information;
  • advice;
  • referral;
  • mediation;
  • representation;
  • administration.

The activities involved will depend on the kind of advice provided and your level of skills and knowledge, but most positions generally involve:

  • providing information to clients in person, on the phone and by email;
  • interviewing clients;
  • diagnosing problems, researching, interpreting and explaining legislation, official documents or the content of letters to clients;
  • considering options and identifying possible courses of action;
  • supporting clients to decide on the best course of action based on the information available;
  • producing information for publications, leaflets and web pages;
  • promoting the services on offer and distributing publicity materials;
  • mediating on a client's behalf, for example, by writing letters, making phone calls or attending meetings;
  • referring clients to other sources of help, for example solicitors, social workers or special case workers, who may represent the client in court or at tribunals;
  • liaising with other internal departments and external organisations;
  • keeping up to date with appropriate legislation and policies;
  • writing reports and compiling statistics on cases covered and services provided;
  • providing training or talks to internal staff or external organisations;
  • setting up support groups;
  • ensuring impartiality and confidentiality when dealing with clients;
  • maintaining confidential case records and administrative systems.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for advice workers are between £16,000 and £23,000.
  • At senior level, salaries range from £23,000 to £36,000.

Some starting salaries may be higher if you work for local authorities or academic institutions.

You are likely to start in a volunteer role, as these are the most widely available vacancies. You'll then receive full training to become an adviser if you're working for the Citizens Advice service. You will then be able to apply for a paid position within the salary bands above.

Starting salaries are relatively low and the highest salaries are for posts that incorporate management responsibility. Salaries are often dependent on external, and sometimes unpredictable, sources of funding.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although advice sessions are sometimes offered in the evenings and at weekends. Some organisations now offer a telephone advice and web-chat service outside normal office hours.

Part-time work is common and flexible working is often available, which may also include job sharing.

What to expect

  • Some positions, particularly those in the voluntary sector, are only available on temporary contracts due to short-term funding.
  • The work is usually office-based and the quality of the work environment depends on the employer and the funding they have available.
  • Self-employment is rare, although it may be possible to offer freelance training.
  • Jobs are available in most towns and cities, but rarely in rural areas.
  • The job involves dealing with clients who are sometimes anxious, upset and angry. Advice workers have limited or no administrative support so often have to undertake much of this work themselves.
  • Some local travel may be required.
  • It is rare for advice workers to be required to stay away from home except for training or conferences.

Qualifications

There are no formal degree requirements for those wishing to enter advice work, although many people do possess a degree and postgraduate or professional qualifications.

Depending on the nature of the advice provided, the following subjects may be helpful:

  • business and/or finance;
  • community studies/cultural studies/youth studies;
  • education;
  • law;
  • politics;
  • psychology;
  • social administration/social policy/social work;
  • sociology.

Some degree subjects are useful for any type of advice work. For example, most advice work will touch on legal issues and so a degree in law can be particularly useful.

Entry with a HND is possible. Any subject that gives knowledge of, or demonstrates an interest in, law, finance, communication or social work is useful. In particular, the following HND subjects are beneficial:

  • business studies/administration;
  • legal studies;
  • public administration;
  • social sciences.

There are some limited opportunities for legal advice apprenticeships.

It is possible to get into advice work without a degree, as many employers look for candidates who have relevant experience and the necessary skills.

No specific postgraduate qualification is required, but some applicants have postgraduate qualifications in:

  • law;
  • psychology;
  • social science;
  • social work.

Qualifications in areas such as counselling or guidance are also valued by employers.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • interpersonal, communication and IT skills;
  • the ability to relate to people from different backgrounds;
  • a caring, sensitive and non-judgemental manner;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • the ability to work on your own initiative as well as part of a team;
  • resourcefulness, problem-solving skills and good attention to detail;
  • the ability to cope with stress and emotionally charged issues;
  • strong written skills suitable for writing letters on a client's behalf and making good case records;
  • numeracy skills suitable for working out benefit entitlements and other financial matters;
  • tact and diplomacy to deal with sensitive and confidential information;
  • the ability to liaise with other professionals and organisations;
  • good awareness of equality and diversity issues.

You may find that knowledge of an ethnic minority language is an advantage for some posts.

Work experience

Developing contacts through voluntary work is a useful way of gaining employment. It also shows your commitment to and enthusiasm for the role.

Indeed, volunteer experience is an important, and sometimes essential, factor in getting paid employment. There can be a high level of competition for a relatively low number of paid positions, as it is common for advice work to be done by volunteers. Experience in dealing with people and running administrative systems is valuable.

Other relevant work experience includes working in customer service or in your local community.

Employers

One of the main sources of employment for advice workers in England and Wales is the Citizens Advice service. Advice services are delivered through the Citizens Advice Bureaux from over 3,300 community locations, run by 338 individual charities.

Citizens Advice operates independently in Northern Ireland and Scotland. For more information see:

However, many of the people who work for the Citizens Advice Bureaux are volunteers, with only a small percentage being paid workers.

There are other independent advice centres that offer general or specialist advice in a range of areas, including mental health, single parent families and homelessness - for details see Advice UK.

Local authorities also employ advice workers. You could be attached to specific council departments, such as:

  • consumer advice;
  • education;
  • housing;
  • social services;
  • youth and community services.

Local authority departments may run general advice centres, which provide advice in several areas and offer referrals to specialist support if necessary.

Another employer is the National Health Service (NHS), which employs advice workers at community health centres and centres offering advice on health issues such as sex education, drug and alcohol dependency, dieting and smoking. Some NHS trusts work with local social services, employing staff who offer telephone advice, e.g. on issues affecting older people.

Universities, further education (FE) colleges and students' union welfare offices also employ advice workers, as do some trade unions and professional bodies.

Job titles can vary depending on the employing organisation and specialism of the role. Other job titles can include:

  • patient and support services adviser;
  • parents' adviser;
  • welfare rights adviser/officer.

The nature of advice work develops in response to particular issues, for example, communities dealing with large-scale redundancies, an economic recession or a newly arrived refugee population.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies rarely advertise opportunities.

Professional development

You will find that organisations usually offer their own training programmes, which provide general or in-depth knowledge of the areas in which they give advice. Most programmes include basic legal training and courses in communication and problem solving. Training usually involves a combination of induction programmes, training and mentoring.

A comprehensive learning programme covering skills and subject knowledge, for example, money, welfare benefits, housing and employment is provided by the Citizens Advice service. The programme includes:

  • courses;
  • online learning;
  • on-the-job learning;
  • self-study.

The UK's largest support network for independent advice centres Advice UK provides a range of training and qualifications for advice workers in areas such as:

  • advice skills;
  • employment law;
  • homelessness;
  • money advice;
  • welfare benefits.

You can also study for work-based qualifications such as the:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Access to Legal Advice;
  • Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Legal Advice Provision;
  • Level 3 Award in Providing Initial Legal Advice;
  • Level 3 Certificate in Providing Initial Legal Information and Advice.

See SFJ Awards for more information.

Other relevant qualifications include the Level 3 NVQ/SVQ Certificate in Advice and Guidance and the Level 4 NVQ/SVQ Diploma in Advice and Guidance. If you work directly with clients, disseminating information, advice and some level of guidance, the Certificate is ideal, whereas the Diploma is aimed at experienced practitioners, who provide guidance and formal advocacy, as well as information and advice.

You need to keep up to date with new laws and regulations regarding issues such as benefits throughout your career and develop knowledge in key specialist areas.

Career prospects

Your career development will often involve moving away from providing advice, at least for some of the time.

Promotion is often linked with taking on additional or different responsibilities, such as:

  • recruiting and managing volunteers;
  • training new staff;
  • managing the advice centre;
  • promoting the services of the advice centre and developing marketing strategies;
  • income generation and financial management.

Although opportunities exist to move into advice centre management, you will find that the profession offers relatively few management positions. Some advice centres are cooperatively run, with no hierarchical job structure.

If you enjoy client work, you may choose to develop your career by taking a course in counselling. Or you may decide to gain expertise in a specialised area of advice work, such as housing, debt and finance, or drug and alcohol-related problems.

Alternatively, you could take professional or academic qualifications that allow you to work in related areas such as law or social care.