EAC looks to recruit volunteers to help re-build its Advice Line service

Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) is a national charity, set up in 1985. Its mission is to help older people make informed choices about meeting their housing and care needs.

Over our early years we were able to develop and run a highly regarded Advice Line service, thanks to the generosity of many grant giving trusts and foundations. Between 2008 and 2016 we greatly expanded the scale of our service on the basis of funding from Government (MHCLG: the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government), and supported a network of local ‘housing options’ advice services across England, all under the ‘FirstStop’ Advice banner.

Our website www.HousingCare.org provided the information underpinning all these advice services.

From early 2017 we were forced to gradually reduce our Advice Line capacity after Government funding was withdrawn, and at the end of 2019 had no choice but to close the service entirely. We do however continue to maintain the website, which is self-funding.

In March 2020, as the impact of the coronavirus on older people across the country became apparent, two individuals approached us separately to offer their services on a part-time voluntary basis. Drawing on their energy, and combined professional experience in the fields of housing and care, we have been able to quickly re-launch a small scale Advice Line service which responded to enquiries from around 75 clients in its first full week of operation.

En route we also put in place a light touch management structure for the new service and devised an induction and training programme. We also created a simple technical solution for protecting volunteers’ privacy whilst using their mobile phones to contact clients.

What we want to do now, and the purpose of this message, is to establish whether there is scope to attract additional  volunteers to work with us to expand our new service in order to help more older people.

Coronavirus and its aftermath will shape all our lives – but older people are particularly vulnerable, both to the disease itself and to the increased isolation lockdown brings. In the weeks and months to come, many more will be thinking about how well their home suits them, how to safely employ people to help them  maintain their independence in their home and whether they should move: many will be faced with difficult choices.

EAC’s Advice Line service is designed to help older people and their families to think through questions like these, reach an informed decision, and to implement whatever course of action they decide on. Our brochure (although rather dated) presents our vision of what a good service looks like. Open EAC ‘Live safely and well at home’ brochure (PDF).

If you might be interested in volunteering some hours to help expand our service you can read more about it in our FAQs below, email me for further information or give me a call to discuss possibilities.

John Galvin

Chief Executive, EAC

Tel: 020 7820 7867

Email: john.galvin@eac.org.uk

FAQs about the new service

What kind of person are you looking for?

Ideally, someone who:

  • has relevant knowledge and/or professional experience of the kinds of challenges older people may face in ‘age proofing’ their homes, getting in services to help them, weighing up the pros and cons of moving home, and affording whatever solutions they opt for;
  • is empathetic, and able to communicate well by phone and via email.

What induction, training and guidance can EAC provide?

  • We have a range of training resources available online to enable volunteers to supplement their current knowledge
  • We can offer one-to-one induction sessions and ongoing guidance from our acting service manager, one-off sessions with other members of EAC’s small staff team, and regular phone or Zoom meetings with the whole volunteer team.

How much of my time would you expect?

  • Ideally, from around a day a week in total – but we are very flexible about how this might be scheduled to suit you.

How does the service work technically?

We identified a number of requirements / challenges at the outset:

  • Simple to use technology
  • Tight control of call volumes to match volunteer availability
  • Minimum of record keeping (ideally none at all)
  • System security (avoidance of virus threats, GDPR/ protection of personal data, etc.)
  • Quality of broadband connections available to volunteers
  • Volunteer security (personal contact details to be protected)
  • Induction and support for volunteers
  • Clear explanation of the new ‘offer’ in publicity on HousingCare
  • Handling calls that are outside the service’s remit (eg. emergency calls, complaints)
  • Insurance cover to protect volunteers as well as EAC

Whilst technical arrangements are still evolving, at the moment this is broadly how we are operating:

  • Client self referral via a ‘customer enquiry form’ on HousingCare website, providing  name, phone number, email, summary of enquiry, preferred time of day for a response call.
  • Enquiries all arrive in dedicated mailbox and are triaged by the acting service manager to a) filter out and deal immediately with simple enquiries and b) allocate others to the most appropriate and/or available volunteer.  
  • Volunteer Advisors to use their own mobile phones to call clients, with caller‘s mobile number not revealed. For volunteers without unlimited call contracts, reimbursement of call costs.
  • A simple diary system is in operation, accessible by volunteers and staff, showing each volunteer’s time availability, and in which staff can allocate clients a time slot with a volunteer.
  • Overall aim of a quick initial response to clients and a booked phone call (if requested) scheduled to suit them.

What you will get from the experience as a volunteer

  • The ability to use your skills on a part time basis to assist people with a wide range of housing and care enquiries.
  • The camaraderie of working as part of a team of professionals with a range of backgrounds.
  • ‘Meet ups’ with the wider team to discuss and review practice so that your experience informs the development of the service.

The experience of our first volunteer

“Volunteering for EAC’s advice line has allowed me to both exercise existing and acquire new knowledge and skills, offering advice on housing, benefits and care issues to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, levels of understanding and personal vulnerabilities, facing personally unique sets of problems.

EAC has always performed a vital role as a first step in helping people navigate through systems that are often extremely daunting and intermeshed, resolving problems where we can and signposting where we cannot; this is a role that will be increasingly important as the backwash from Corvid 19 threatens personal services, individual finances, families and individuals.”