Portsmouth Business School

The University of Portsmouth’s Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB)

Action research experiment (September 2004 and June 2006)

Volunteering at CAB

Caroline Strevens, Claire Sparrow

The Issue

Citizens Advice Bureaux have traditionally relied upon the retired and housewives to provide their pool of volunteer advisors. From the early 1990s onwards, it was noticed that the increased wealth in retirees, and the increased number of housewives who undertook part-time work was having a negative impact on the recruitment of volunteers. This had been experienced by the Portsmouth CAB, who wished to see whether university students could fill this need.

Underpinning research

A pilot was undertaken between September 2004 – June 2005 in which two students and two members of staff, Strevens and Sparrow were trained as general advisors. In order to see whether law students could train and act as general advisors given their study commitments; how CAB would cope with training; and how student volunteers would integrate with the traditional pool of volunteers. Following on from the pilot in which the participants wrote reflective logs, interviewed the CAB management and other volunteers, and engaged in observational study) a new model of training university students was created in which the university conducted the training and integrated the advice work into curriculum in an assessed unit. This was disseminated at several conferences and CAB events, and Sparrow wrote about the findings in ‘Reflective Student Practitioner – an example of integrating clinical legal experience into the curriculum’ (2009) 14 International Journal of Clinical Legal Education 70-76.


The model of training and methods of assessment used have been utilised in several other institutions (including Reading University and London Metropolitan University), and by several CABx (including Hendon and Camden) to develop relationships with their local universities. It has fed into the CAB national policy of engagement with students, and was a crucial element of the Portsmouth Advice Services Partnerships successful bid for Big Lottery Transition Funding in 2013. Between 2004 and 2013, 95 students have provided in excess of 17000 hours of advice for CABx in the Portsmouth area.