Checked content

Citizens Advice Bureau

Related subjects: Community organisations

Background Information

The articles in this Schools selection have been arranged by curriculum topic thanks to SOS Children volunteers. Click here for more information on SOS Children.

A Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is one of a network of independent charities throughout the UK that give free, confidential information and advice to help people with their money, legal, consumer and other problems.

The twin aims of the Citizens Advice service are:

  • To provide the advice people need for the problems they face.
  • To improve the policies and principles that affect people's lives.

Trained advisers help write letters, make phone calls, negotiate with creditors and represent clients at tribunals and courts.

There are also Citizens Advice Bureau organisations in Australia , New Zealand , Israel , and the the Bronx, New York, USA .

When referring to more than one local CAB, the abbreviation CAB is sometimes pluralised as CABx because bureau is a French word with the plural bureaux, although CABs is also used.


The origins of the modern Citizens Advice service can be traced back to the Betterton Report on Public Assistance from 1924.This report recommended that advice centres should be set up to offer members of the public advice to help them with their problems. During the 1930s, as preparations and plans were drawn up for the possibility of war, the role that the voluntary sector should have was determined. The National Council for Social Service (NCSS) called a meeting in 1938 in which plans to establish 'Citizens Aid Bureaux' were devised in the event of war.

The first 200 bureaux opened on 4 September 1939, 4 days after World War II started. Many of these initial bureaux were run by 'people of standing' in the community, for example the local bank manager. By 1942 there were 1074 bureaux in a wide range of improvised offices such as cafes, church halls, private homes and air raid shelters. Mobile offices also became important in ensuring that people could access advice. Many of the issues dealt with during that time were directly related to the war. These included the tracing of missing servicemen or prisoners of war, evacuations, pensions and other allowances.

Many war time bureaux closed at the end of the war, although it was apparent that there was still a need for the services that had been established. A particular problem was the chronic housing shortage in the years immediately following the end of the war. In the 1950s the funding was cut and by 1960 there were only 415 bureaux. In 1972, The Citizens Advice service became independent. Before then, the national organisation was part of NCSS (National Council of Social Services) and most bureaux were run by the local CVS ( Council for Voluntary Service).

In 1973 the government funded NACAB, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, to enlarge the network. In 2003 this changed its name to Citizens Advice (in England and Northern Ireland) and Cyngor ar Bopeth or "Advice on everything" (in Wales).

In 2003 the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) changed its name to Citizens Advice. In Wales it was renamed Citizens Advice Cymru (Cyngor ar bopeth Cymru).

In 2008/9 there were 416 member bureaux offering advice from over 3,300 locations in England and Wales and a further 22 bureaux in Northern Ireland all of which are independent charities.

A 1984 afternoon television drama series Miracles Take Longer depicted the type of cases that a 1980s branch would have to deal with.


The Citizens Advice service in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland is guided by four principles. All Citizens Advice Bureaux and workers for the bureaux must adhere to these principles, and bureaux must demonstrate that they adhere to these principles in order to retain membership of the national umbrella bodies.

  • A free service
  • Confidentiality
  • Impartiality
  • Independence

The service is also committed to:

  • Accessibility
  • Effectiveness
  • Community accountability
  • The client’s right to decide
  • A voluntary service
  • Empowerment
  • Information retrieval
  • A generalist service


A lot of the Citizens Advice service's work involves providing advice on issues such as debt management and welfare benefits, housing, immigration and asylum, employment, consumer complaints and landlord/tenant disputes. Advice is available in the bureaux, but also in community venues, in people's homes, by phone, by email and at

The Citizens Advice service, both locally and nationally, also uses clients' problems as evidence to influence policy makers to review laws or administrative practices which cause undue difficulties to clients, in a process referred to as "Social Policy".

Organisation and funding

The Citizens Advice service is one of the largest volunteer organisations in the UK with over 20,000 volunteers. The majority of these are part time volunteer advisers with varying levels of training, but the figure also includes trustees and administrators. Typically there will be a paid bureau manager, advice session supervisors and in some cases some paid advisers. With the ever-increasing complexity of queries many bureaux are having to resort to employing more staff to cope with constantly changing legislation.

Each local bureau or group is a separate independent charity with independent trustees. Many bureaux are also limited companies and may have a board of directors, who will also be the organisation's trustees. Bureaux throughout the UK have varying community needs and very different resources, and consequently offer different styles and levels of service.

They often receive significant funding by local authorities, and local solicitors may agree to provide limited legal advice pro bono. Some staff may be qualified to give specialist legal advice or to advise on immigration. The umbrella bodies of the service in the UK provide access to training courses for all volunteers and employees.

All bureaux try to ensure their services are accessible to all sections of the community, so that provision can be made for the housebound, immigrant communities, rural inhabitants, elderly and disabled as appropriate.

All bureaux in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are members of Citizens Advice, the operating name of The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. Northern Ireland bureaux are also members of the Northern Ireland Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NIACAB). Bureaux in Scotland are members of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), part of the Scottish Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. Both Citizens Advice and CAS are registered charities and are financed partly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (although both organisations are completely independent of central government); member bureaux also pay heavily-subsidised subscriptions for the services offered. Citizens Advice and CAS provide bureaux with information, training and consultancy services, and regularly audit individual bureaux against the requirements of their respective membership standards.

IT support

Membership of Citizens Advice gives each bureau access to the national information portal, known as AdviserNet and to internet access provided through a Virtual Private Network.

Information on clients' problems and the advice offered to them is entered into the CASE national database, the use of which has been compulsory since 2008. Although the data on CASE is centrally stored and backed up by Citizens Advice, the data can only be accessed by the bureau that entered the information.

New initiatives

Despite the large number of volunteers working for the organisation, level of demand for the service often far outstrips resources. Citizens Advice has recently begun looking at ways to reach all members of the community through new mediums such as email advice and digital TV.

Another initiative has been allowing university students to train as advisers to gain credits toward their degree. This was pioneered by a partnership between the University of Portsmouth and Portsmouth Citizens Advice Bureau and is also now available at the University of Reading and the University of Northampton.

Retrieved from ""