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Smoothing the referrals pathway at Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice logo
Citizens Advice offices are a familiar sight in towns and cities. They form a vital network of independent charities that provide people in England and Wales with free, confidential advice and assistance on tough issues they might be facing - from debt and money, to housing, consumer rights, work, benefits and more. Citizens Advice helps millions of people each year with one-to-one advice, many from marginalized populations who may struggle to access such services any other way.

Increasingly, people have complex needs, often requiring support from multiple teams or organizations. Previously, people needing help would have to navigate this themselves – going to the back of the queue each time they encountered a new system or team. Citizens Advice became concerned that those in greatest need may drop out of the system because of its complexity and extended waiting times.


Meeting the challenges together 

Illustration of a group of people and abstract patterns

Thoughtworks worked closely with Citizens Advice to evolve its referral methods beginning with a ten-week program through our Social Change Lab initiative in late 2021, which was extended into 2022, and returning again to help with some improvements in early 2023. 


During those first ten weeks we created a minimum viable product (MVP) which users said “pulled us into the future”. This joined up the hundreds of partners in Citizens Advice’s ecosystem with its case management system and made the client experience far smoother. The system enables professionals such as doctors, librarians and community support workers, to refer people easily and directly to Citizens Advice for support. It also allows Citizens Advice teams and volunteers more control and flexibility over how they meet demand.

Building on solid foundations


Rachel Beaumont, Senior Product Manager at Citizens Advice believes that the new system puts the organization in a better place to respond to the ever-increasing demands. “The partnership with Thoughtworks galvanized this work and in a short space of time got us over a major milestone and into the space of delivering value,” said Rachel. "When you have to do more with less, our responsibility as a charity is not only to look for new financial opportunities wherever we can find them, but once we have them, use them." [1]


The MVP provided solid foundations to scale and roll out the new tools and processes. The new Inward Referrals product is currently used by 44 local offices with 96 partners and more than 500 referrals per week. The Outward Referrals product linking Citizens Advice offices to external partners is used by 42 local offices with 23 partners involving around 20 referrals per week. Internal Referrals also went live within Citizens Advice’s bespoke case management system Casebook, which makes improvements to how advisers refer people needing help to other specialist areas of Citizens Advice.

More satisfied clients, more support to combat the cost-of-living crisis


Early indications show that clients who come to the service via Inward Referrals report a better experience compared to all other clients. A survey of clients showed a 20 percentage point increase (up from 65% to 85%) in clients reporting an improvement in their mental health.


New referral processes are also supporting services in a variety of ways for Citizens Advice clients affected by cost of living hikes. Help through Hardship (a dedicated helpline run in partnership with Citizens Advice and the Trussell Trust) identifies areas where referrals can improve the outcomes for those people coming to it in crisis. This includes enabling referral partnerships with organizations such as Mind (for mental health support) which offer callbacks to referred clients, as well as improvements in the way clients are referred to the wider Citizens Advice support network. 


Other examples include the Citizens Advice Energy team’s partnership with Ideal Heating, offering eligible referred clients a free replacement boiler. Improved pathways for clients referred to Citizens Advice via the Money and Pension Service for help with debt and in applying for debt relief orders, plus easier ways for local offices to work with local partners to deliver the Household Support Fund, are just some of the other areas seeing improved client access.


The ripple effect of referral improvements driven by Citizens Advice’s rollout of the initial MVP created with Thoughtworks have spread far and wide throughout an organization on which so many people depend. We are delighted to have played a small part in these outcomes, amplifying the impact of this incredible organization with technology.


Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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