CITIZENS Advice organisations emerged as far back as the 1930s, where they were linked to the emergence of a fledgling social welfare service and the outbreak of the Second World War.

A government grant in 1973 allowed the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) to expand the charity and Citizens Advice (CA) has grown to be the largest independent advice provider in the UK.

Last year CA helped 2.6 million people face to face, over the phone or by email and webchat, and with a network of about 280 independent local charities across England and Wales, their services are provided by more than 22,000 trained volunteers and 7,000 paid staff.

Over the last 18 months, CA has repeatedly raised alarming concerns over the roll-out of Universal Credit - the highly contentious flagship welfare programme from the government which seeks to consolidate benefits into a single payment each month.

Last year CA said its expansion was a “disaster waiting to happen” with claimants being pushed into further debt and following a £39m injection of cash, the CA have now been brought in by the Conservatives to help claimants get their first payment on time and be ready to manage it when it arrives.

Unsurprisingly, given the number of people who are struggling with Universal Credit as well as other issues, CA are always on the lookout for new volunteers and this week Citizens Advice Flintshire will host a special event for people to find out more about opportunities for volunteers.

“As it gets rolled out it’s Universal Credit which seems to be causing the most problems at the moment,” said Rachel Jackson, who works as an advice supervisor at Citizens Advice Flintshire’s Connah’s Quay office and is from Prestatyn. “It’s impacting on things like personal debt and evictions, and we’ve seen a lot of the calculations being made in error.

“We did a benefit check for someone recently and advised them to claim Universal Credit.

“Six weeks later they came in distraught because they weren’t given any credit because of their earnings but when we checked the calculations they hadn’t checked the number of children. We had to challenge it and it becomes very, very frustrating.”

Citizens Advice volunteers come from a range of backgrounds, and chose to help for many different reasons.

Volunteer roles are varied, challenging, yet rewarding, and volunteers enjoy being able to make a valuable contribution and a positive impact on people’s lives.

“I used to be a case worker and I remember one guy I saw had mental health problems, he’d been in hospital, lost his home and had been rehoused and had lots of debts,” said Rachel, who began volunteering before securing a paid job with CA. “By the time he left the room he said to me, ‘I feel so much lighter now that I’m getting help to deal with things’. It means a lot.”

“There were many good ideas behind Universal Credit but some were just never going to work,” said Daniel Mostyn Jones, who also works in Connah’s Quay as an advice supervisor. “The paying of rent money to vulnerable people who’d previously had it paid direct to their landlord we knew would never work but there are good elements, especially for people who are on zero hours contracts.”

Daniel points out that he and his fellow CA workers in Flintshire are operating in the first place in Wales where Universal Credit was rolled out.

He said: “We were the guinea pigs, which has been challenging but hopefully other CAs and councils can learn from our experience.

“It did put a lot of pressure on us and it was a unique pressure for the people of Flintshire, which has some areas with high unemployment and for instance the problems we see in Deeside are different to those we see in Mold.”

Daniel, who is from Connah’s Quay, is also now in a paid position at CA, after starting out there eight years ago.

“I was out of work and applied for an admin position here,” he said. “I did it for six months and progressed to a case worker role and from there became an advice supervisor.

“We’re here because we want to be here not because we need to pay the bills, so there’s a good team atmosphere and it’s very rewarding.

“It’s great that I can help people from my home town and help them find a way forward when they’re experiencing difficult times.”

Ian Hornby, who works as a volunteer advisor and is from Mold, previously found employment as a technical director for a house building company and decided he wanted to keep busy when he retired.

“It’s rewarding and it’s just nice to be able to put something back,” he added. “I’ve been very blessed with a good life and I’ve been able to work all my life and I know there are a lot of people who are less fortunate than I am.

“I’d recommend volunteering with the CA to anyone who was thinking about it. It’s absolutely brilliant.”

Citizens Advice Flintshire are hosting an event aimed at those who would consider volunteering, at 10am, on Wednesday, January 23, at the CA’s Deeside office, Connah’s Quay. For more call 01352 706840.