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Volunteers needed for Ealing Advice Service

COVID-19 is a huge health crisis. It is also having a significant financial and social impact; one that will be felt long after the lockdown lifts. Trusted advice and help will be more important than ever as the full effects of COVID-19 are felt, and this is where the Ealing Advice Service (EAS) comes in.

Ealing does not have a local branch of Citizens Advice, so EAS acts as an equivalent one-stop shop for advice and information on a wide range of issues.

A team of well-known charities sits behind the service; Ealing Mencap, AgeUK Ealing, DeafPlus, Nucleus Legal Advice, MIND Ealing, Hounslow, Hammersmith and Fulham and many more. This means it is set up to respond to a wide section of the local population, including those with additional needs. The service is part of the Ealing Together coalition.

After lockdown lifts

They usually help around 6000 people a year, with some people needing help more than once. But after lockdown lifts, they are expecting these numbers to rise as the legal protections put in place around employment and evictions during the lockdown are rolled back, and they are now looking for more volunteers to help.

Matthew Coulam is the service development manager at the service. He explained: “We have a wide pool of specialists who either volunteer directly for us or who we can call on as part of our partnership. The way the service works is that a call will come in and one of our volunteers will listen and try to help. If the issue can’t be resolved at the point of contact, it will be passed on to one of our case workers.

“We’re looking for people who can provide assistance on the telephone advice line and assess enquiries to give high quality information and advice in social welfare law. We would also like to work with solicitors who can give some of their time pro-bono.

“The clients that are approaching us now are different to the ones we typically worked with before, who might have had additional needs or be quite vulnerable in other ways. We’re seeing a large increase in people who are employed or business-owners or families with children and homeowners with a different range of advice enquiries that we need to skill ourselves up on.

“That’s why when it comes to volunteers, we would like to speak to people who have a background in family law and employment advice as well as welfare benefits, housing and debt. We’d also like to hear from people who speak a second language.”

“The most vulnerable are being hit hardest”

COVID-19 has stopped Ealing Advice Service from giving face-to-face advice for now, but they are adapting their service. They are in the process of equipping their volunteers with handsets so they can work from home. And there will be a secure chat room so advisors can pool their knowledge and help each other with enquiries in real time. There will also be full online induction, on-the-role supervision and training. Volunteers need to be available for between seven and 14 hours a week.

The service is already seeing the effect of COVID-19 and the lockdown on local people. Matthew continued: “The most vulnerable are being hit hardest by the outcome of COVID-19. They stand to lose the most and we want to help these people quickly so they can avoid short term problems becoming long term poverty.”

“Some people are already struggling, and we’ve had calls from residents threatening suicide. Some of our customers are vulnerable with mental health issues and COVID-19 is making it worse.

“We are also seeing an increase in neighbour disputes. People aren’t just locked down with their household, they’re also locked down with their neighbours and anti-social behaviour is affecting people more than if they were going out to work.”

To find out more about the role, please send an up to date CV to anisha@ealingadvice.org.

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