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    Welfare Rights Officer

    If you are wondering how to become a welfare rights officer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the legal profession, as well as law job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Welfare rights officers, also known in the voluntary sector as advice workers, provide information and advice on a wide range of topics, including:

    social security benefits
    disability rights and benefits
    housing issues
    debt management.
    Welfare rights officers can work as generalists (advising clients on any welfare benefit issue), or focus on the issues facing a particular client group, such as those with mental health problems, or HIV, or the elderly.

    Their duties are likely to include:

    identifying suitable benefits for clients, to maximise their income
    explaining the eligibility criteria for a range of benefits
    helping people complete benefit applications
    putting together letters of appeal with clients
    gathering evidence and contacting other professionals in support of a client’s case
    representing clients at tribunal and in review boards
    keeping accurate, thorough and confidential records
    visiting people in their home if they are unable to travel to the office
    working and negotiating with voluntary and statutory organisations on behalf of clients.
    Welfare rights officers will often work with clients face-to-face, over the telephone and by letter or email. This work can be stressful and frustrating but is also very rewarding.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good welfare rights officer include:

    a working knowledge of the benefits system
    the ability to interpret and explain clearly social security legislation
    strong verbal communication skills
    the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in writing
    to be well organised, able to manage a wide and varied caseload
    the ability to work well in a team and as an individual
    the ability to set priorities and meet deadlines
    to be impartial and treat clients in a way which is non-judgemental and without bias.

    How to become a welfare rights officer
    To work as a welfare rights officer it is essential for you to have relevant knowledge and experience, more than formal qualifications. However, many employers will expect you to have a good standard of education, possibly including GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) in English and maths. Many people working in this area have degree or postgraduate qualifications – relevant subjects include sociology, social policy, law, business administration, and community studies.

    A common entry route is to volunteer to work in an advice centre and have relevant training in areas such as:

    interview and communication skills for use with clients
    social security and disability benefits
    debt advice and management strategies
    tribunal representation.
    As a volunteer you may also be encouraged to achieve NVQ Level 2 in Advice and Guidance Support. When you have volunteered in this field for between one and two years, you may have gained suitable skills and knowledge to apply for a paid position.

    You can also gain relevant skills, knowledge and experience by working as an adviser in an appropriate department of your local council or with a Jobcentre Plus, for example.

    You may be able to get into this job through an apprenticeship scheme. Funding for apprenticeships is available for 16-24 year olds and some over-25s. To find out more, visit http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/. For information about apprenticeships in other parts of the UK, see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Criminal record bureau checks will usually be made by your employer.

    Training and Development
    As a new welfare rights officer you will receive training from your employer, which is usually a combination of in-house training and external courses. You can also work towards vocational qualifications, such as NVQ/SVQ levels 2 to 4 in Advice and Guidance.

    Larger organisations often have their own structured training programmes. As a volunteer or paid employee of the Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) you will receive nationally recognised training. Many of the courses offered by CAB are available to external advice workers, specialist case workers and interested members of the public. Check Further Information for contact details.

    As a welfare rights officer it is important for you to keep up to date with benefit regulations, legislation and case law, which can be complex and change frequently. Employers may provide on-going training as part of a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries for advice workers can be around £18,000 a year.
    With experience welfare rights officers can earn around £21,000 to £25,000.
    Officers with additional responsibilities can earn around £29,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    There are around 1,000 independent advice centres in the UK and approximately 3,000 branches of the Citizens Advice Bureaux. In addition there are about 140 DIAL UK (Disabilities Information and Advice) projects, and a number of other organisations that are part of the Law Centre Federation. Local authorities and national and local charities such as Shelter, Age Concern, Terrence Higgins Trust and the Scottish Low Pay Unit also provide welfare rights services.

    As a welfare rights officer you will find opportunities for work with independent advice centres, local authorities, health services, voluntary organisations, law centres, housing associations, and solicitors. You will find most vacancies in larger cities, often in the most deprived areas.

    With experience you may progress into a supervisory or management post; some managers continue to work directly with the public. You can also move into more specialist advice work such as money advice, or become a trainer of other advice workers.

    Competition for work can be strong and there are a limited number of paid positions. Short-term contracts are common.

    Useful legal resources:
    Advice UK
    12th Floor
    New London Bridge House
    25 London Bridge Street
    London
    SE1 9ST
    Tel: 020 7407 4070
    https://www.adviceuk.org.uk

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