Citizens Advice Southampton | Validating an existing video hub solution providing advice to vulnerable people



Why the work is being done

We have developed a working video hub at the city’s main library.  It allows advisers to meet clients who don't have access to the internet remotely via the “Visionable” platform. The hub set-up has a dual camera which allows clients to show their adviser important documents.

We would like to:
  • Test the viability and research the usability of the library hub set-up for advisers and clients.  Particularly for i) clients for whom English is not their first language and need immigration support with the ability to share key documents. ii) clients with poor mental health. 
  • Test the boundaries of the platform for clients able to use the technology from home.Develop training that supports advisers to use the technology confidently.
  • Develop a model of support for advisers using the technology so we understand how this will affect our back-office resourcing in the future.
  • Explore with our team how we could integrate video conferencing into our business as usual model in addition to pre-booked appointments and in-person “drop-in”.
  • Explore the best means of sharing of multiple documents, potentially by linking a scanner to the hub set-up.  We are currently using a free test set-up, but would like to use funding to meet the costs of suitable licences for a number of advisers and supervisors.

Our user research indicated a preference for face to face advice, as phone calls increase anxiety and the ability to see facial expressions helps. We are working with the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust Patient involvement facilitator to support this work.

This project is part of the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response funding initiative; a partnership between The National Lottery Community Fund and CAST, supported by the Catalyst network.

Problem to solve

At Southampton Citizens Advice Bureau we are seeing a rise in demand from clients impacted by COVID-19 who would not normally have needed our services previously – our data shows we are supporting more young people, those furloughed, and those newly unemployed. 
Many of these clients will be able, with light touch guidance, to self-assist and use existing online, webchat, phone and email channels to get the help they need. 

However, we are starting to see a profound level of unemployment in the city, in some areas as high as 35% according to ONS data for September 2020 - in those communities with the highest levels of deprivation, larger representation of BAME communities, poor housing, lower educational attainment and greater health inequalities. 

We know from our demographic data for the last six-months that fewer people from these groups access our current mainly-remote service, despite demand increasing overall. People who usually need face to face advice can't easily access the service. Complex problems that can't be readily supported by phone, email and webchat or because of language, literacy or other barriers such as poor mental health, need face to face help with the ability to share documentation. This includes support for very urgent issues e.g. homelessness, no food, or money. 

Without timely help outcomes for clients will be very poor. We know that phone advice takes longer, with multiple calls and additional time to review documents, in consequence, reducing our overall capacity. This is having a severe impact upon our debt advice service which has seen a reduction of 46% of clients supported in the last six months. We are also recording a third fewer issues, which leads to concerns that we may be missing problems including domestic violence, abuse and safeguarding. Important issues such as domestic violence and abuse may be missed because advisers aren't able to pick up on non-verbal cues, or establish the same level of trust and rapport that helps explore issues fully.

Who are the users and what do they need to do

User needs statements: 

As a Citizens Advice client, I want simple and reliable access to a service so I can solve my problem quickly.
As a Citizens Advice client with poor mental health, I want to see someone rather than use the phone, so I can see their expressions and reduce my anxiety.
As a Citizens Advice adviser when I meet a client, I need easy to use reliable technology that will allow me to see clients and their documents so I can explore issues fully. 
As a Citizens Advice adviser, I need to be able to access support if things go wrong so I can focus my time on supporting my client.
As a Citizens Advice immigration adviser, when I help a client whose first language isn't English, I want to be able to see the individual and their documents to help us understand each other so I can provide accurate, timely advice 

Key outputs:
  • Fully developed user needs assessment
  • Preferred platform identified and utilised for the video advice solution at an existing managed hub and with clients using their own devices
  • Key technical and environmental requirements for future hub locations fully specified
  • Key technical requirements for clients using their own devices fully specified
  • Tested accessible interface for digitally excluded clients with minimum physical interaction with hardware/software
  • Tested accessible and easy to use platform for advisers
  • Tested document sharing (scanning) process/facility
  • Understanding of low-level of ongoing user support required  for ongoing management of platform
  • Building on the knowledge within the organisation and our understanding of user needs, define and (if possible) develop  a training programme for advisers working remotely, and assistants supporting clients
  • Defined process  for video advice channel to be integrated into our client offer.

Key project resources