Welfare benefits advisers and welfare rights caseworkers advise clients on employment rights and benefits, including housing benefits and tax credits, to make sure they receive their full entitlement.
Welfare benefits advisers usually work directly with the public and their work may include:
Welfare benefits advisers may refer more complicated cases to welfare rights caseworkers who have more experience.
The work of a welfare rights caseworker may include some of the same tasks as a benefits adviser, as well as:
Welfare benefits advisers and welfare rights caseworkers work mainly in the voluntary sector and in local authorities and they give what is known as 'better-off' advice. This differentiates them from someone working for the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, who would not be able to give the client impartial advice on how any decision they may be considering or any employment they may take, might affect their claim or benefit. Advisers refer to this as undertaking 'better-off' calculations.
Some organisations use slightly different titles for these jobs. In smaller organisations the same person may do many of the tasks of both jobs.
Working hours are typically 9.00am to 5.00pm from Monday to Friday, but there may be meetings or advice sessions in the evenings or at weekends. There may be opportunities for part-time work and job sharing.
Welfare benefits advisers are normally based in an advice centre, which the public can visit for information and help. Sometimes they may have to visit people in their homes and provide advice sessions in the community. Welfare rights caseworkers may work less with the public and may spend more time in other offices and attending appeal tribunals.
The starting salary for a welfare benefits adviser is around £19,000 a year. An experienced welfare rights caseworker may earn between £22,000 and £30,000 or more a year.
Employers include voluntary and charitable organisations, independent advice centres, local authorities, health services, law centres and housing associations. There are jobs within college and university welfare offices, trade unions and in community-based organisations.
There is a higher concentration of posts in large cities, but there are also opportunities in many small towns and rural areas. Short-term contracts are common, as employers may be dependent on project funding.
Jobs are advertised in the local and national press, The Guardian on Wednesdays and in magazines such as Adviser, Independent Adviser and The Big Issue and on advice sector websites such as www.adviceuk.org.uk and www.citizensadvice.org.uk. Jobs in local government can be found on www.lgjobs.com. The NCVO Voluntary Agencies Directory may provide useful contact information.
Entrants do not always need formal qualifications, as relevant knowledge and experience are often more important. However, a good command of English and basic maths skills are required. Subjects that are relevant to the job include law, social science, social administration and sociology.
Most welfare benefits advisers and welfare rights caseworkers begin by doing part-time voluntary work in an organisation such as a Citizens' Advice Bureau or community advice centre, where they will receive on-the-job training and supervision.
Entrants are likely to start as front-line advice workers dealing directly with the public on broader topics such as debt or employment and housing, before specialising in welfare benefits and tax credits.
Employers will usually make Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and the ability to speak a minority community language may be an advantage for some jobs.
Staffordshire University offers higher education courses in advice studies at certificate, diploma or degree level by distance learning including a new BA (Hons) advice work degree and an LLB advice work degree. Applications for these courses may be accepted from people with a wide variety of qualifications, skills and experience.
Training can involve both in-house and external courses. It is important for welfare benefits advisers and welfare rights caseworkers to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, as benefits regulations can be complex and change frequently. The National Occupational Standards for Legal Advice outline the skills and knowledge required and any advice work training programme's will be aligned to these.
Organisations such as Citizens' Advice and AdviceUK provide recognised and comprehensive training programme's for their volunteers and paid staff. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) provides training in a range of relevant subjects at introductory, standard and experienced levels at its office in London. It also offers in-house training.
City & Guilds NVQ Level 2/3 in Advice and Guidance Support is available. NVQ's in Legal Advice have been developed at Levels 2, 3 and 4 and should be available to advisers by now.
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Welfare benefits advisers and welfare rights caseworkers need to:
Welfare benefits advisers can progress to become welfare rights caseworkers. With experience welfare rights caseworkers can become team leaders or managers. Opportunities are usually greater for those working in larger organisations such as local authorities.
There may also be opportunities to move into areas such as research and policy, or training and consultancy.
AdviceUK, 6th Floor,
63 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 8AA
Tel: 020 7469 5700
Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG),
94 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF
Tel: 020 7837 7979
Citizens' Advice, Myddelton House,
115-123 Pentonville Road, London N1 9LZ
Tel: 020 7833 2181
Staffordshire University, College Road,
Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2DE
Tel: 01782 294000
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.