Last night was the Citizens Advice 70th Birthday Awards and I was touched, surprised and thankful to pick up a special, unscheduled, award for Citizens Advice Champion of the Year.
What’s most moving for me is Citizens Advice is the original consumer champion. The fact it manages to attract 21,000 volunteers shows its appeal, and in today’s world we need all the advice we can get.
My main relationship with Citizens Advice comes in the field of debt, as those who hear my constant mantra that “get help from one of the non-profit debt counselling agencies” can’t have failed do note (see the debt help guide).
This is echo’d by the MSE Charity also makes grants to many local CABs for specific projects. And the positive feedback on how it’s saved or rescued people is unending.
Yet of course the CAB does more than that, it provides legal help, consumer rights guidance and a whole array of info.
As patron she made the key speech last night. The speech itself was strong, but of course it could’ve been written by someone else. You do always suspect with patrons that their main job is to look good on headed letter paper.
However that isn’t the case here. In the reception beforehand I was introduced to her and was delighted to hear how much she genuinely knew about the organisation, and she’d personally registered the fact I recommended it on air, which again indicates an active rather than passive role with regard to the organisation.
This moved on to a discussion about debt, loan sharks, and what to do about it, and while its easy to assume the Royals live in a different world, she proved that wrong. She has a grounded knowledge, is interested in current issues and aware of the suffering of people. Though when it got on to my Milionaire Appearance for the CAB – neither she nor anyone else there could answer the £250,000 question we were stumped on.
A veritable who’s who of the finance and advice world
The whole evening, meeting volunteers who do the grindstone work and hearing about the impact, was fascinating.
Yet there were also more than a smattering of the great and good, from the FSA, banks, Pfeg and more.
On my right was Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. I had a very enjoyable in-depth discussion with her, learning a lot about administration, tax credits overpayments and more – all of which falls into her domain. Though I did feel a bit mean on poor Mrs MSE who had to listen to my nerdiness.
A little further round the table was John Fingleton, the head of the OFT. I didn’t get to speak to him a lot; the last time we bumped into each other was bank charges day, but did manage a small conversation about the ongoing public spat between Ryanair and him.
It’s a charity
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the CAB is that it’s a charity. Millions use its services each year, and I think many believe it is a government-funded body. However much of its income does need to come from donations, and that’s crucial.
In the next year it hopes to set up a telephone version of its service and that’s going to be invaluable. We now live in a world split between web and off-web information. Hopefully the CAB’s new service will help bridge that gap.