The Advice Services Alliance is the umbrella body for independent advice services in the UK. Their members are national networks of not-for-profit organisations providing advice and help on the law, access to services and related issues. They offer membership at two levels for advice sector organisations and stakeholders. The Advice Quality Standard is owned by the Advice Services Alliance and was originally developed in conjunction with the Legal Services Commission. Click here for further information.
What is the Advice Quality Standard (AQS)?
The Advice Quality Standard is an organisation quality standard for legal advice services operating in the area of social welfare law. The quality framework includes a set of standards designed to ensure a service is well run and has its own quality control mechanisms and that in doing so, assures the quality of the information and advice services it provides and promotes social justice.
The quality standards and assessment methods used reflect the minimum standards necessary to ensure that clients seeking advice receive accurate, complete and timely advice, and that they are able to obtain this advice from an advice provider which is accessible to them and which is able to act independently and in their sole interests.
The Standard has been designed to be applicable across the range, size and shape of the advice sector and each organisation holding the Standard will have given consideration to how the requirements apply to their organisation and what processes are in place to ensure these are followed. It is built on the principle that people who work in organisations where learning from experience and from their clients is valued, will also develop their practice and their services.
Who is the Standard for?
The Advice Quality Standard can be applied to any social welfare advice service operating at the generalist level and most operating at the casework level. In lay terms, this is any independent advice centres or other organisations also providing advice on benefits, housing and employment. These services will probably receive funding from sources such as charities, local authorities, or other public funding and whose primary objective is to provide independent, free, or affordable advice to members of the public, in particular those with limited options for legal advice.
Some organisations holding the AQS will only be giving advice, whilst others may be delivering a range of services of which advice is one. An advice service is defined as one that is able to provide a client with basic initial legal advice in most areas of law. For organisations that provide on-going support and/or more detailed help, their service may be defined as a casework service and awarded the AQS for this level.
AQS – The Benefits
Working towards AQS accreditation you will be building on your existing commitment to quality and current practices. Your AQS journey will lead to staff development and job enrichment opportunities and your preparation will include a review of your current Case Management practices which will enhance your client experience.
The AQS Framework will also review your governance arrangements and ensure your organisation is well led and the assessment process provides external validation.
Many funders and advice sector partnerships insist on seeing quality standards in place. Accreditation against the AQS will result in your organisational details being included into a bespoke register of accredited advice agencies: The AQS Online Directory.
What’s more, AQS holders have confirmed how Accreditation has increased their networking opportunities for referrals and stronger partnership working
What type of Advice does our Service Offer?
Advice Only Service
An advice service will involve a diagnosis of the client’s enquiry and the legal issues involved, and the service user will be given information options. The adviser will identify further action the client can take and may provide some assistance: e.g. contacting third parties to seek information; filling in forms. It would usually be completed within one interview although there may be some follow-up work; the client would take responsibility for any further action.
Advise with Casework
An advice with casework service includes all the elements of an advice service and also involves taking action on behalf of the client to move the case on. It could include negotiating on behalf of the client with third parties on the telephone, by letter or face-to-face. It will involve the advice provider taking responsibility for follow-up work and possibly challenging the decision or action of a third party. Corresponding or negotiating with third parties, to protect a client’s rights or interests is also part of casework and this will go beyond simple requests for information.
AQS with Telephone Services
Organisations that provide telephone advice services as a part or all of its work, at either Advice Level or Advice with Casework Level can be assessed against additional telephone standards to be awarded the Advice Quality Standard with Telephone Standards. The requirements of the telephone level should be read in conjunction with either the ‘Advice’ Level or ‘Advice with Casework’ Level requirements.
Examples of work under the scope of the telephone requirements are national, regional or local telephone help lines including organisations who offer an additional telephone service to their face-to-face service.
COVID 19 and Telephone Advice
The transition that many advice services have made from face-to-face advice to telephone advice does not necessarily mean that this version of the standard is applicable and if you are considering the Telephone Standard you should pay particular attention to the criteria set out below.
Debt Advice Services
The Advice Quality Standard has been accredited against the Money and Pensions Service Debt Advice Quality Framework since April 2017 and as such, any debt advice provider applying for accreditation against the AQS, either at Advice Only or Casework level, will automatically be assessed against the requirements of the MaPS Quality Framework.
What does this mean in practice for AQS advice services?
On a practical level this means that all advisers/caseworkers providing debt advice in your organisation must have undertaken MaPS accredited debt training or a debt advice qualification which enables the organisation to demonstrate that they have the appropriate knowledge for the debt advice related activities expected within their defined role.
To establish whether or not advisers/caseworkers have the appropriate knowledge MaPS have identified six activity sets which reflect the different tasks undertaken during the debt advice process; further information and a self-assessment tool for organisations providing debt advice can be accessed here.
To help organisations prepare for assessment, MaPS has put in place a Self -Assessment process including a Staff List and Skills Matrix for all individuals involved in the delivery of debt advice. The Staff List and Skills Matrix should identity all staff, paid and unpaid, working in debt advice within the organisation and should be completed in advance of the on-site AQS assessment.
Additional guidance is available via the MaPS Debt Quality website which can be accessed by the following link: Learning Pathway Hub