The Story of
The Citizens' Advice Bureaux



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1    THE WAR 1939-45

There can have been few periods in history when changing conditions affected so many people so rapidly as in the first few months of the last war. Families were suddenly broken up or grotesquely expanded as the children from 'evacuation areas' were herded anxiously off to the 'reception areas', leaving a half-empty house at one end and a crowded dormitory at the other; lonely and worried mums here and distracted foster-mothers there. Households, offices and businesses were threatened with breakdown as fathers, sons, owners, staff, were called up for military service, for the fire service, for civil defence. Every other person had a question to which it was difficult to find the answer, often because at that stage there was none.

This was what CABx were for: somehow they must find out what could be done, what ought to be done. Already in those early days their organisation stood them in good stead. Headquarters was in close touch with government departments and sent details of the latest regulations and concessions to the bureaux at top speed. (Typical of the confidence this engendered in capable local officials was the appeal of a town clerk to the CAB he had helped to set up for information about deferment of military service for local government officers, if the bureau should receive it before he did.) The local bureau for its part was in close touch with the local offices of central departments - Ministry of Health, Unemployment Assistance Board (as it then was), Ministry of Labour and National Service; with the departments of its local authority - housing, health, education, and the rest; and with all the voluntary social service organisations in the area - Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, Red Cross, British Legion, Moral Welfare, Provident Dispensary, Association for the Blind, or whatever societies there were nearby. Represented on its committee, or less formally associated with it, would be trade unions, chambers of commerce, a friendly firm of solicitors, of estate agents, and many others. So the workers, most of them part-time and new to this kind of service, faced the questions with hope and some degree of confidence.

The young wife, the elderly father, the widowed mother, came to ask anxiously if their Tommy - newly-married, backbone of the business, or only support of the family - was in a 'reserved occupation' or whether he could get his military service at least postponed. The bureaux quickly learned the ropes and helped their enquirers to handle them: Labour Exchange, Hardship Committee, the essential forms of application; and some got their respite. Others, who did not, left another set of difficulties behind. He had been called up three weeks ago and still his wife had not received her service allowance. He and his wife were buying a house through a building society - she could not keep up the payments out of the allowance; or the rent was high and she could find no other rooms; or they had taken out good insurances and joined various thrift clubs and the arrears were mounting and the insurances would lapse. The bureau could show them how to apply for a 'special allowance', could tell them of possible help from the Assistance Board or from SSAFA.

More than that: the CAB was in a position to see just where the shoe pinched so many feet, long before the harassed officials who had to try to follow their complicated instructions had time to lift their eyes from the flood of appliations that poured into their offices all day long. For example, the Assistance Board had to investigate the means of applicants for special allowances before the service authorities could look at the applications; but the Board had offices only in the larger towns and applicants in the smaller towns and villages around might lose days in getting forms to complete and sending them back. Bureaux were quick to point out to the Board the distress which these delays caused and to negotiate schemes for speeding up the procedure, sometimes by helping to persuade the Board of the urgent need for part-time offices in many more places. In this sort of way even the tyro bureaux, not attached to experienced social work organisations, found themselves from the start doing the kind of constructive work in partnership with the authorities which today is as much a feature of the service as the giving of information and advice. Indeed, the records show that only a few months after war began, headquarters were already collecting from CABx details about serious problems created by the war, as seen from their vantage-point - adequacy or otherwise of allowances, delays in granting special financial assistance, housing difficulties, dismaying rumours, and the like - to help authorities at the centre, as well as in the localities. to adapt their policies to demonstrated needs.

Another characteristic of the service. which is perhaps its chief hallmark, also declared itself (as the originators had meant it to do) in the very early days: it was called upon to serve every kind of citizen and so learnt by clear demonstration that there are two sides to every question. Mrs. Smith. for instance, was the tenant of a nice little grocery business with two cheap rooms over the shop, but since the outbreak of war her trade had gone, blighted by customers' debts and suppliers' demands for cash payment, and she was in arrears with her rent. Her landlord was threatening to turn her out. What could she do? Mrs. Jones was the owner of a house which she let for a rent that, added to her widow's pension, was just enough to live on. Owing to the war her tenant had lost his good hotel job and had had to take unskilled factory work at a low wage. He was far behind with his rent but the law wouldn't allow her to give him notice. How was she to live? Little Mrs. Tom who had left a coastal town with her five young children well before the official evacuation, did not know how to pay the fantastic rent she was being asked in a reception area for a room with two beds for the six of them; and kind Mrs. Dick, having let her three nice rooms on generous terms to another evacuated family, found that they made a pig-sty of them and scared away her other lodgers. so that she was in almost as bad a plight as Mrs. Tom.

Most bureaux found at this period that, though the majority of problems which they met were caused by the war, these were not an overwhelming majority. There were any amount of difficulties, aggravated probably by uncertainty, rising prices and so on, that were as likely to arise in peace-time as in war: the widow without a widow's pension, getting on in years but not old enough for an old age pension, who had spent all her savings; the young man who had lost a leg in a motor-cycle accident and needed an artificial limb to fit him for work; the childless couple wanting to adopt a baby; problems about workmen's compensation, liability for house repairs, sickness benefit. Early in the war came new legislation lowering the qualifying age for women for the old age pension, and introducing supplementary pensions, and many enquirers came to CABx to ask how they stood, even before the Bills were through Parliament. In those days many of the volunteers manning the new bureaux had little detailed knowledge about the normal social services and thought it was their general duty to refer such enquirers to the local office of the appropriate government department, at that time the Ministry of Health or the Board of Customs and Excise. 'But often,' the organiser of a typical CAB in a small provincial town recorded, 'especially during the weeks when the Pensions Bill was being discussed in the House of Commons, and the local office naturally would hazard no opinion about its ultimate form, we could be of some help in talking over the possibilities with anxious enquirers and letting them know what their position would probably be if the Act came into force in its present form.' In this way the CABx began to realise at an early stage that they were not likely to be merely an emergency service for the war but a part of the fabric of normal community life; not only a sign-post and a clearing house, but a centre of advice and interpretation.

It was none the less the war which mainly in those days determined the trends of community life, and very soon the 'Blitzkrieg' succeeding the 'Sitzkrieg' (or the 'Phoney War') put every other trouble in the background. In the early summer of 194O the Germans swept across Europe to the Channel ports; and into the CABx all over the country came women asking how to try to trace husbands, sons and brothers lost in the battles of France and Flanders; what were the proper allowances for wives of men posted as 'missing', or pensions for the dependent families of those known to have been killed; and then, after anxious weeks, another sudden rush to fmd out how to send letters and parcels to prisoners of war. This was the first severe test of the bureaux' links with the services, statutory and voluntary, designed for such emergencies - with the Foreign Relations Department of the British Red Cross Society, with the War Office, the Foreign Office, with SSAFA; and the links held well. Public confidence in many a bureau dated from that time. 'The lady at the bureau found our Bert. Didn't I tell you she would, Dad?' Unfair perhaps to the real searcher services, but it was the CAB office in the High Street that was the tangible, comprehensible embodiment of those remote record offices in London or Geneva through which slowly filtered news of hundreds of Berts. At the same time, with the advance of the enemy forces up to the opposite shore, many bureaux were faced with a new set of problems brought by a new set of people: evacuees from the coast who wanted to know how to get their furniture removed from their abandoned houses; what were their liabilities for rent and rates; how to get help to tide them over while they found some new means of livelihood to take the place of the neat lodging house in Ramsgate or the thriving cafe in Dover which they had had to leave. But even those problems began to seem manageable by comparison, when, a few weeks later, the great air-raids on London, and soon on other cities, started to disrupt nearly everyone's life. The authorities had long ago made plans for evacuation, protection against gas attacks, deep shelters, treatment for casualties, rescue and welfare, compensation for damage and injury; but no one had been able to visualise fully the need which hundreds of people would have for a guide to all these services; for someone to sort out their individual problems; to tell them, indeed, dazed and bomb-shocked as they were, exactly what problems they had.

This again was what CABx were for. In every raided place they quickly improvised a point of information and advice where it was most needed - in rest centres, shelters, civil defence centres, and of course in their own offices if such remained. Often these, and the homes of many of the bureau workers, had been destroyed too, but they struggled on with their job, like everyone else. In Coventry for instance, the bureau functioned in the street outside the city hall, without even a table or chair, for the first day or two after the great raid, dealing with hundreds of questions. Very soon, learning as always by experience from day to day, headquarters worked out special short training courses in post-raid welfare for bureau workers allover the country, so that wherever the bombs fell, or the homeless from a nearby raided area took refuge, there would be people on the spot who could sort out their troubles, tell them where to apply for shelter, clothes, money for food; how to trace missing relatives, to get the fare to travel to friends who could give them a room, to ask for compassionate leave for husband or son.

This was certainly an emergency service but it had two features which bore the hallmark of permanent CAB work: it soon became an accepted partner in the authorities' post- raid welfare plans, which it had helped to shape (the Ministry of Health's recommendations to local authorities on setting up information centres after raids, followed, and did not precede, CAB experiments); and it maintained a continuity of advice and help for people with long-lasting problems, because there were permanent CABx for them to turn to, or to be referred to if they moved, in every part of the country. * 

This wide coverage grew with the war, and grew in value. But over a thousand bureaux, and CAB volunteers at reception desks in every information centre after air-raids, were still not enough to meet all emergencies. Mobile teams were organised, at first to reinforce bureau workers in the worst-hit places in their own neighbourhood, and later, at the time of the flying bomb and rocket raids on London, to come in relays from all over the country to help. Fixed centres of information, however, would not always meet the need. Transport broke down, people were too bomb-shocked to find their way to a centre, or too ill or old, or too busy clearing up the wreckage of their homes. Advisers had to go to them. Starting with a van provided by the Friends' Ambulance Unit, the CAB service experimented with mobile advice units which could go anywhere at any time, taking the answers to the people in their own streets or villages. In the end there were one or two units in each civil defence region: a motor horse-box here, a two-decker bus there; a converted caravan; a car with tents and camp beds for the staff. It is a pity that one of the few surviving photographs of these vehicles gives a somewhat false impression of this dedicated work: the legend on the back of the van, partly obscured by the head of someone sitting on the step, reads 'Citizens' vice Bureau',

This piece of war-time work illustrates two more characteristics of the CAB service: swift adaptability to current needs; and the sense that, though each bureau is independent and local, its staff is part of a national team. By this stage in the war the government had acquired a lively appreciation of the usefulness of these points. From the beginning the Ministry of Health had given grant-aid to the service; the Ministry of Information had helped to make it widely known and had used it as a sounding-board of public reactions to war-time policies; and many departments had been glad to keep the headquarters posted with up-to-date information. But now the government began deliberately to use the bureaux as their mouthpiece and interpreter to the citizen of new provisions and restrictions. Clothes rationing, introduced in July 1941, was the first of these. The Board of Trade had no local offices; the CAB service had both a national headquarters to which the Board could confide the details of the new scheme (and later of the Utility Furniture Scheme) in the necessary secrecy well before the public announcement, and local bureaux that could be briefed just in time to cope with the torrent of questions and problems which were bound to come as soon as the news broke. (Incidentally, clothes rationing queries continued to outnumber every other type of question at nearly every bureau right through the war and after. For everyone - mothers of growing families, traders, people who had lost their belongings in air-raids, expectant mothers, workers needing special clothing, couples setting up home for the first time - the rationing of clothes and material was the last straw in the burden of worries, puzzles and frustrations that weighed on them through those years.)

Other straws that the bureaux were able to sort and ease a little off Everyman's pack were a mixed lot of varying weight: the difficulties of sending letters and parcels to prisoners of war and civilian internees in Europe, and later in the Far East also (the Foreign Office, the Red Cross, and MI5 were the CABx' mentors here); explaining income tax demands to wage-earners suddenly required for the first time to pay tax (the Board of Inland Revenue arranged lectures for groups of bureaux and instructed its Inspectors to co-operate closely with them); compensation claims for property or goods damaged by bombs (the War Damage Commission asked that bureaux, suitably instructed, should explain to applicants the basic points such as the difference between 'cost of works' and 'value' payments); the difficulties of workers transferred to essential work in factories far from home, of middle-aged women called up for war-work, of foreign refugees or the wives of Allied servicemen struggling to keep going in poverty and loneliness in a strange country. Changing conditions as the war went on continued to dictate the kind of problems brought to the bureaux, but perhaps the most significant change was in the complexity of the problems.

There had always been a great many questions to which there was no simple answer, but for most of them a solution could be found by using a knowledge of various relevant provisions, statutory or voluntary .There were others, hbwever, whose number grew as people became familiar with CABx, which that kind of answer did not fit. As early as the spring of 1940 a very new bureau organiser had suggested that another heading would soon have to be added to the categories under which enquiries were listed, called perhaps 'domestic difficulties'. Two years later the 120 or so CABx in the North Western Region recorded a monthly total of nearly 2,000 'family problems' as they were by then termed. Two years after that these had increased by a monthly total of 32 per cent.

At a CAB conference in the same region and the same year the national secretary of the service, speaking about the immediate future of the CAB movement, warned the bureaux that when the war ended people would have not fewer problems but more, and more complex, because settling down to normal work, to home and to community after these years of exciting effort for a common purpose would involve subtler strains and stresses than there had been in the change-over from peace to war.


The government also had been considering the sort of problems which millions of men and women coming back from the armed services or from civilian war-work would be facing when the war ended, and the responsibility of the authorities for helping them in their return to peacetime life.

'Owing to the obvious and pronounced success of citizens' advice bureaux in helping over the difficulties inseparable from war-time emergencies', said the government spokesman at the first national CAB conference in May 1945, 'the government felt that some service of this sort would be needed to deal with resettlement.'Because of the government's direct responsibility in the matter it must be a government service but 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we are endeavouring to build on the good work you have done.' This was one of the most important and practical of the 'glowing tributes', as the Minister of Health put it at the same conference, which the government had paid to CABx. But on the face of it, or on the face put upon it by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service, which was the department responsible, it might have been taken to restrict rigorously the place of CABx in the post-war society. For the Ministry had arranged to set up a series of 'Resettlement Advice Offices' throughout the country to which those returning from war service would be invited to come, by every means ofpublicity, 'if they have any problems, any worries, or any need of advice about their re-entry into civilian life', not only concerned with their jobs.

Where an enquirer needed specialised technical or legal advice which no government department could give, he would be referred direct to experts in the localities who, through an arrangement with The Law Society and other professional and business organisations, would be ready to help him. Ex-servicemen and women needing 'active assistance' of a kind which no statutory authority could provide would be referred direct to local branches of the services welfare societies; and those with personal problems who had not served in the armed forces would be referred to the local casework agency. Citizens' advice bureaux were exhorted to co-operate with the resettlement advice offices, but on the face of such an explanation of their working it might look as if, in the words of one bureau organiser at the conference, 'the CAB service was to be excluded entirely except in instances where there was no answer to be found.'

In fact the leaders of the movement, who had had opportunities to discuss with the Ministry's officers how the two services would fit one with the other, took a quite different view; and most of the 10,000 bureau workers had little time to contemplate any view other than the hundreds of citizens who continued to ask for their help, often now on questions related to the coming post-war period when they hoped to get back their bombed, evacuated or requisitioned houses; to emigrate; to send help to distressed relatives in the liberated countries; to find out about scores of other new problems. For people had grown accustomed to CABx through the catastrophic changes and tragic or comic chances of five war years, and would go on getting information and advice from them so long as they were there, and tell their husbands and sons and daughters and friends coming back from war service or war work to do the same. Most people, with a democracy's customary ingratitude for the excellent official services which its elected representatives have laboured to provide, were tired and wary of government offices and regulations and restrictions; and, however friendly and informal, as well as efficient, the resettlement advice officers might be (and those were the qualities which the Ministry intended them all to show), many enquirers would prefer to take their questions in the first place to an unofficial bureau, or even in the second place in order to check the exact meaning or impartiality of what 'They' had said.

Moreover the resettlement problems were likely to be so numerous and varied that there must be room for all the qualified help which could be mustered. In point of numhers of offices alone the government service would obviously fall short of what was needed - in one of the great Scottish cities, for example, where there were nine CABx, one RAO was planned. In point of means proposed for dealing with the more complex personal problems, which showed every sign of predominating, the provision was even less adequate. The Minister himself acknowledged that there were many localities where the 'local casework agency' to which RAOS were instructed to refer these cases did not exist. Citizens' advice bureaux themselves were not specialised social work agencies and never pretended to casework skills and techniques; but many of them were linked with the casework body in their neighbourhood and, where there was none, most already had some 'consultant' service of experts in this and other fields of work. Their declared function of acting as a focus for all the local services made this obvious and comparatively easy. From the beginning they had worked closely with the Poor Man's Lawyers who, in the day before statutory legal aid, helped people with legal problems who were unable to pay solicitor's fees; and they had had much to do with the setting up in 1941 of a similar professional advice service by valuers and surveyors - the Poor Man's Valuer Service - to assist with war-damaged property claims. Some bureaux had consultants on housing, income tax questions, factory legislation, moral welfare, domestic and matrimonial problems; and in 1944, with the end of the war and of some of the more straightforward questions in sight, headquarters sent a circular to all CABx, urging them to develop wide consultant services. Bureau workers certainly needed all the help they could get when peace came. Practical problems like shortage of housing, shortage of food and materials, the difficulty of finding suitable work when many war-time factories shut down or turned to other work - all these and more increased rather than diminished, and were intensified by attitudes of mind or circumstances even harder to cope with than the bomb-shock or bereavement of the war years. A returning soldier might fmd not only that his house had been destroyed and that he had to live with his family in a cramped and dingy flat, but that his wife expected to keep her role as head of the household and that his teenage children were strangers to him. Another might have his home intact but might meet the problem of a grandparent who had found a niche there while he was away and was one too many now that all the young family were back from evacuation or service overseas. Many men and women who had had responsible, interesting war jobs could not settle down to the dull manual or office work which was all they could find; whereas others who had had all their thinking done for them in the services found difficulties when they had suddenly to plan their own lives. Some member of the family probably came to the bureau with an apparently straightforward question about permits, housing lists, or assisted passages to Australia; but often the core of it was a family or personal problem which someone had to try to help them to recognise and disentangle.

Not that the so-called 'straightforward' questions, un-complicated by such problems, grew easier to answer. Everyone now had the chance, and the need, to rebuild his or her life broken by the war, and knew that everywhere they turned there were regulations that hindered and, they hoped, regulations that helped; but they often did not understand what or why, or how to avoid or to use them. There were resettlement grants paid by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture to help with getting back to normal work; but there was also a Control of Engagement Order that restricted the employment of men in certain categories and certain industries. The Location of Retail Business Order was withdrawn at the end of 1945, but to get a grant of coupon floats to start a trade in rationed goods was a problem. There were fine prospects for the holiday trades after years when no one could take anything more than a 'rest-break', but how to get the materials to re-equip hotels and camps in time for the first post-war season? Hundreds of girls had married, or not married, American soldiers who had now been sent back to the States, and they needed to know about nationality questions, about arrangements for rejoining their husbands, or how to try to claim maintenance. Hundreds of foreign refugees or ex-servicemen wanted, on the other hand, to stay here and be naturalised; and thousands of British civilians returning from internment in the Far East needed help with complicated claims for compensation for their belongings taken by the Japanese, and with other, more difficult, problems of resettlement.

But housing was one of the key difficulties for nearly everyone, and often the cause of other problems. As the shortage of housing became more acute, because of bomb damage, cessation of new building and normal repairs during the war, and the return of men and women from the Forces, legislation and regulations multiplied in an attempt to make the best of what accommodation there was and to hold a fair balance between the rights of landlord and tenant. Questions about requisitioned houses, war-damaged property and other war-time problems went on for years, but already before the end of the war the experience of CABx had provided useful evidence for the Government Committee on Rent Control, and the consequent Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act of 1946, establishing rent tribunals to decide on fair rents for furnished accommodation, was the beginning of a long new series of complicated measures which put housing at the top of the bureaux' list of queries for several years.


Housing was taking its place as one of the social services, but what everyone thought of primarily as social services in the years just after the war were the series of social security measures which resulted from the recommendations of the Beveridge Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services, presented to Parliament in 1942. The report was based on a survey of existing relief and insurance schemes - the Poor Law, National Health Insurance, Contributory Pensions Insurances, Unemployment Insurance and Assistance - which were a collection of measures devised at different times to help with certain needs of certain groups of citizens. The revolutionary - or perhaps evolutionary-idea that inspired Lord Beveridge's proposals was that there should be a single system of national insurance aiming to cover all classes and all family needs, with a supporting national health service and education on a higher level for all, and the maintenance of a good general standard of living through full employment. This would provide every citizen with a secure, minimal foundation on which, free from want, fear and ignorance, he could build a full individual life.

It was the comprehensive character of this idea and of its practical application which gave CABx in the early post-war years a new spate of problems to solve but also a new understanding of their part in social developments. At the first national CAB conference in 1945, Sir Wyndham Deedes then vice-chairman of the National Council of Social Service, had said that he supposed the type of job hitherto dealt with by CABx had on the whole been 'negative in character - the giving of information and advice to get out of difficulties', and suggested that tomorrow they should turn to the positive and set out to let people know what the government was offering to the advantage of the citizen. At a rather earlier conference a NCSS regional officer had already put the broader conception of CAB work in another way when he said that bureau workers, with their knowledge of men and women and of true social relationships, would have in the future a great opportunity 'to work for a decent state of society' ; not only to advise and inform but 'to use the knowledge they gained to influence changes that would have to be made'. Now, with this great new system of social welfare, they had indeed the opportunity not only to inform and advise the puzzled citizen how the regulations applied to his particular case, but also to show him how one service dovetailed with another to cover his needs, to point out the long-term consequences of a decision on alternative courses of action and, in the light of all these individual problems, to assess the impact of each piece of new legislation in itself and in its relation to the other provisions of the 'welfare state'.

This was a tall order and CABx grew to it gradually and some, of course, more fully tllan others. But the chance was there, and almost thrust upon them by the character of the new schemes. The Family Allowances Act, 1945; the National Insurance Act, 1946; the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946; the Education Act, 1944; the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944; the National Health Service Act, 1946; the National Assistance Act, 1948; the Children Act, 1948 - which all came into operation in the three or four years just after the war - were designed to take care of the basic needs of every citizen from the cradle to the grave. But because their provisions were so all-embracing they were bound to be intricate and their relations with one another sometimes confusing. For instance, the married woman going out to work needed to realise that choosing not to pay National Insurance on her own account and to depend on her husband's insurance record for her pension in old age meant certainly that she would save money now but that she would have to wait for a pension till she was 65, instead of 60, if her husband was the same age as herself and longer if he were younger. A man suffering from epilepsy might know that he could register as a disabled person with the Ministry of Labour so that he would have a chance of getting a job reserved for the handicapped, or possibly training for more suitable work at a government industrial rehabilitation centre; but he might find it very useful to discuss with someone 'unofficial' whether these advantages outweighed the disadvantages, as he saw them, of being branded publicly as disabled and probably losing the chance of work he preferred and felt capable of doing. A mother, overwhelmed with child-bearing and housekeeping, with small means and health and smaller talents, might ask the CAB how to get 'them' to take some of the children away and look after them, but the bureau worker might see that here the National Health Service Act, under which the local authority could contribute to the cost of sending her and her small children to a recuperative and training centre for a few months, might be a better proposition all round than the Children Act under which the authority could probably take the children 'into care' at the cost of a great deal more money and of breaking up the family.

Bad or unsuitable housing, or none, was often an ingredient in a problem like this, and in many another in which the apparent difficulty was the husband's inability to pay his way, the wife's bad housekeeping, the children's poor showing at school, the teenager's delinquency - all probably stemming from having to pay too high a rent for the only house they could get, or having no hot water or decent kitchen, or room enough for the family to live their different lives within their own home. Many of the housing enquiries which came, and still come, to the bureaux, are requests for help in finding accommodation, difficult or impossible to respond to, yet simple. But as the government devised more and more schemes for speeding slum clearance, controlling rents, and later starting a gradual decontrol in an endeavour to make more property available for letting, providing improvement grants to encourage landlords to modernise old houses, and so on, the complications involved in letting, renting, maintaining, buying or selling house property brought a multitude of questions from both tenant and landlord which highly taxed the bureau workers' knowledge and understanding. Before each new Act came into operation, CAB headquarters provided advance information for every bureau and the Ministries concerned (sometimes the Lord Chancellor's Department as well as the Ministry of Housing) sent officials to address training schools for the workers all over the country, as well as benefiting by the bureaux' experience in preparing their own publicity for the new measures.

Fortified by this accurate and detailed information, CAB workers struggled to explain the implications of the law for each individual enquirer, or at least to distinguish when the problem was too difficult for them and legal or other professional help was needed. They might, for example, at one period spend much time explaining the kind of way in . which a tribunal had to determine the standard rent of a controlled house, or the rights of a tenant whose landlord had accepted an improvement grant and failed to provide the amenities agreed. At a later stage, they found need to warn many people, accustomed to rent control and security of tenure, who were offered new accommodation by their landlord, that there would be no such security in the new letting; or to warn some anxious small landlords, who wanted to arrive at a compromise on rent increase that would be fair to their tenants, that they ought to have more regard to their own financial position. When some houses at last became available for sale, the snags of house , purchase for people with no experience of property but desperate to have a home brought hundreds more problems; fairly simple ones like how to raise a mortgage or what help the local authority could give, but many more difficult or even tragic because the over-hasty buyer did not know what precautions to take or was ignorant of the possible effects of planning, compulsory purchase or slum clearance - the family, for instance, who had mustered every available penny to buy a house which was later found to be riddled with dry rot; or the widow who had invested her small savings in a cottage in which she planned to live, only to find that it had already been scheduled for demolition. So obvious was the need for information and advice on such matters that CAB headquarters eventually found a way of spreading it to an even wider public than came with their questions to the bureaux, by producing two booklets: first Buying a House - Do's and Don'ts published in 1956, and later, in 1962, Renting a Home: a Guide for Landlord and Tenant. These were not meant to take the place of the appropriate professional services, but rather to point out to less experienced people how essential these services often were in such transactions and how many legal, financial and other considerations had to be taken into account; and though the booklets were based on the bureaux' direct experience they drew largely on the help readily given by the experts - The Law Society, the professional bodies of surveyors and estate agents, the Ministry of Housing, the Building Societies' Association and others.

Such problems might start in the bureau records under the category of 'housing' but more and more often as time went on they had to be transferred to 'family and personal problems' - that group which had been growing fast ever since the war and took top place in the bureaux' statistical returns for the first time in 1954. A great number of them were matrimonial difficulties, and though it was obvious to the CABx that some were problems which must be referred to a skilled caseworker, a marriage guidance counsellor, a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever other expert was appropriate and available, very often the distressed or angry enquirer needed only someone attentive and 'neutral' to listen to her, or his, story of unkindness, quarrels, neglect or whatever it might be and, that found, would go away relieved and even grateful. Or it might be that she just needed someone with a less clouded judgment to ask if she had thought about all the consequences of the divorce she had been determined to 'see the lawyer about' - the custody of the children, for instance, or the ability of the husband to keep two homes - and had considered any alternative to her drastic solution. Or someone with common sense to suggest, when she had heard the jumbled story, that perhaps the discord in the new home was due not so much to incompatibility of temperament as to failure of both husband and wife to plan in advance for quarterly rates, electricity and gas bills, and hire purchase instalments.

Hire purchase indeed soon began to figure in the minds of bureau workers as the Wicked Fairy, as well as the Fairy Godmother, in the house. They saw - and no doubt often found in their own homes - that this method of buying, if properly used, was a godsend to thousands of people, especially to young couples setting up their first home and families moved from old houses or furnished rooms to new estates and towns. But in the hands of people who could not add two and two together, or calculate that the weekly instalments on the dining-room suite, the washing machine, the television set, the refrigerator, came to most of the whole weekly income, with little over for rent, food, clothes, and every other necessity, it was practically the root of all evil from which could grow debts, family quarrels, rent arrears, eviction, and even worse disaster. As early as 1955 a CAB sub-committee was set up by the national committee to consider hire purchase problems as seen by bureaux all over the country and by other voluntary organisations with experience of families in difficulty; and in addition to recommendations about trade practices, about possible action by local authorities, and other things, which were sent to the appropriate associations or government departments, the deliberations of the committee produced results which were to have an influence on the trend and standing of much CAB work in the future.

First their report was published as a booklet, Hire Purchase and Credit Buying, which gave factual information about the various methods and the legislation controlling them, their advantages and disadvantages and the dangers they hold for thoughtless or inexperienced people; and also a leaflet setting out some of the points to be taken into account when undertaking hire purchase. These both had a large circulation far beyond CAB circles: 1,500 copies of the report, for example, went to the Army Education Department; 21,000 copies of the leaflet were bought by a Scottish county council; and many copies of both were taken by youth organisations and clubs and societies of many kinds as a basis for informal discussion. And this had a bearing on the second feature of the report: its strong recommendation about the need for more advice and education in home-making and home-budgeting.

Back in 1951 the CABx had held a joint conference with the councils of social service largely because they wanted to discuss this subject on a broader basis and to consider whether, together with other organisations, they could do something more constructive than trying to sort out such family problems when they were full grown. Bureau workers were disturbed by the difficulties which many people faced in keeping an adequate standard home life in face of the rising cost of living, the continuing problem of overcrowding, and the increasing need for young wives to go out to work. A little later, when prosperity began to return, the generally higher standard of living and high-pressure advertising tempted a large number of people to go beyond their means, especially in the new communities where householders needed so many new things to equip their nice new homes. 'There are never less than five or six representatives of hire purchase firms on the doorstep', said a housing manager in a new town, 'when we give out the keys of new houses on Thursdays.' Some bureaux equipped themselves to give simple, practical advice, such as how and where to buy essential furniture and household goods without taking on expensive commitments; and others discussed with organisations in the neighbourhood and local education authorities how they could together provide more elaborate home-making advice services. Over-spending on hire purchase was of course only one of the problems they met. Even in this particular field there were many others, ranging from the difficulties of a private person buying a car from another without means of finding out whether there was a hire purchase commitment attached to it, to the difficulties of a trader asked to fetch back a television set because, as the purchaser's son had now given her one, she did not want to keep it and saw no reason to pay the instalments owing. Bad trading like this, on the part of either consumer or trader, accounted for many of the problems; but trading questions as a whole grow more complex as goods and services proliferate with the expansion of the economy and the ingenuity of inventors and manufacturers. There is great difficulty in assessing the relative merits of all kinds of new materials and new processes, and in knowing how to treat them in use. Guarantees and warranties raise many questions, particularly those which cover different parts of a piece of equipment for varying lengths of time. Some purchasers are misled by a fine modern finish to an inexpensive article into expecting it to be as good as something much dearer; others are not sure whom to hold responsible when, for instance, a dress with 'permanent' pleating comes back from the cleaners with the pleating spoilt. Even by 1960 the number of such questions coming to the bureaux was comparatively small - 50,000 out of a total of a million - but it is significant that this was more than double the figure for 1958. (The number for 1962 was 76,000, compared with 317,000 dealing with family and personal problems in general.) At any rate the questions provided CAB headquarters with more than sufficient material to exchange information and suggestions with the trading associations, local chambers of trade, The Law Society, the Board of Trade, the British Standards Institution, and the various consumer organisations which have been formed in recent years, as well as with such voluntary organisations interested in family life as the Women's Institutes, the Red Cross and the YWCA; and when the Board of Trade Committee on Consumer Protection (the Molony Committee) was set up in 1959, they were in a position to submit evidence of such value that the Committee eventually recommended to the government that CABx should be invited to provide a country-wide advisory service on these questions for the individual, while a central Consumer Council looked after consumer interests in general.

It is of course not only young couples and families that have such problems. Old people have similar difficulties with a different slant; and more and more of the elderly, often living alone, far from their grown-up children or old friends, come to the bureaux for advice. There is the elderly deaf man, for example, who has been persuaded by a hire purchase salesman on the doorstep to sign what purports to be a receipt for a hearing aid on trial and which turns out to be a legally binding agreement; or the old lady in a newly declared smokeless zone who, at the instance of a high pressure salesman, buys some expensive heating equipment without knowing whether it is suitable for her fireplace or getting the approval of the local authority so that she could have a grant towards its cost. Or the elderly couple in a state of near panic because the superintendent of a mental hospital where their cousin, whom they have scarcely ever seen, has been a patient for many years, has written to say that he is considering discharging her and asking what arrangements they can make to take her into their home.

This last trouble is typical of many that the new mental health provisions are bringing to the bureaux. As the then Home Secretary, Mr. R. A. Butler, said at the 1959 CAB conference, just before the Mental Health Act was actually passed, the 'splendid advance in the field of mental health, which it made possible was bound to bring very great personal responsibility to bureau workers because, tending as it does to use the community in preference to the institution to care for the mentally ill wherever possible, it imposes heavy anxieties and burdens on the home and the family, so that they need not only informed explanation of their obligations or choices but understanding support and a marshalling of all kinds of resources, statutory and voluntary, to help them.

Not least among these resources in the long run is the growing ability, and duty, of the CAB service 'to use the knowledge they gain to influence changes that will have to be made' - in the words of a NCSS regional officer at a CAB conference nearly twenty years ago, quoted already at the beginning of this section. Sometimes the 'knowledge they gain' is about a seemingly small point, which may yet turn out to have a quite important bearing on policy or administration. An example is the case of that elderly couple quoted earlier, which gave the CAB worker a clear hint of the kind of way in which some of the best-intentioned mental health plans may go awry, or at least give more distress than they ameliorate, simply because the expert often does not think of putting himself in the layman's shoes. The medical superintendent, in the natural course of doing what seemed best for his patient in the new conditions, was exploring the possibilities of a home for her, but it probably did not occur to him when he wrote his very 'official' letter to her relatives that they would not know that his request to them was not a command and that he had no powers to oblige them to take her in and would not wish to do so. The bureau worker was able not only to relieve their minds by explaining this to them but also to note the point in one of the reports which many CABx were sending to headquarters about their experience in this new field; and all these significant points, sifted and compared, would form the basis of a reasoned (and felt) 'social survey' of the working of the mental health provisions as seen from the bureaux, for the guidance of the Ministry of Health when next preparing advice for hospital boards, executive councils, or local health authorities, or considering possible amendments to procedure.

The knowledge gained from some other questions may apply to a more limited field, but one of real concern to a good many individuals. A few bureau workers, for instance, have noted that some disabled people with a disability and advancing age that make it most unlikely that they will get employment again, find it a real hardship to carry out the condition for unemployment benefit which requires them to call twice a week at the employment exchange to register. Citizens' advice bureau headquarters, in an informal discussion with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance following the severe winter of 1963, were told that any extension of the privilege of postal registration would cause certain difficulties but would be considered if the bureaux showed that the problem was widespread.

Very often, however, a multitude of problems bearing on one large sector of policy practically compose of themselves an unsolicited survey. Questions arising from the Rent Acts over the years illustrate this; but here the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, realising the help which CABx can give them in explaining the various measures and the regulations, procedures, forms and so on connected with them and in 'feeding back' information about their effects and the public reactions, have several times made definite requests for reports. The CAB evidence submitted in 1953 to the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce drew upon an even wider field of problems for its facts and conclusions, worked out in partnership with personal service societies; and their suggestions for building up family life as against attempts to deal with the situation when family life has broken down showed the sort of constructive use they were making of their experience to meet changing social needs.

At an early conference of the CAB service, the late Lord Beveridge said that it was 'a window through which social workers and legislators could see the man in the street'. The window opens to his questions, small and large, so that they can hear the very tone of his voice and see him plain.


Citizens' advice bureaux were set up to give an emergency service in time of war. Long ago they took their place as a permanent part of modern society; but in these later years they have had several chances to prove that they have not forgotten their origins and that they can still rise to a sudden occasion with the vigour of their young days and the wisdom of experience. One such emergency was the Lynmouth flood disaster of 1952.

The far more extensive East Coast floods of the following year was another. As at the height of the air-raids, relays of experienced CAB workers, helped by other volunteers from councils of social service and casework agencies, went at once to strengthen the existing advice services or to set up emergency bureaux in the place where the evacuees had taken refuge and the town that normally served the area; and as in war-time, the workers often had to make do for an office with the end of a trestle table from which tins of food or cleaning materials were being given out, or go around looking for people in need of advice and help who were too dazed and anxious to leave their half ruined homes. As in those days too the local authorities in the affected towns were glad to have advice from experienced CAB workers who could forewarn them of the problems they might expect and help them to draft notices and brief information clerks, and to take the first brunt of the questions.

Once again first-aid information met the need in the early days - how to trace a missing relative, how to get houses dried, where to apply for clothing, for lodging allowances, for free meals. But very soon more personal advice and help were needed about, for example, how large an emergency grant to ask for and if they claimed too little, whether they could ask for more later, and whether it would be better not to clear up so that the valuers could see the full extent of the damage when they came to inspect. Then the long-term problems began to emerge just as they had done in the war, proving the value of a continuing advice service (some even of the emergency bureaux stayed open for many months) ; and of a headquarters which could, with the help of the workers on the spot, act as adviser to the central source of help, in this case the Lord Mayor's Flood Relief Fund, and to well-wishers all over the country who wanted to know about the continuing needs for gifts of clothing, furniture or voluntary labour. By these means, ways were slowly found to solve or at least ameliorate the tragic problems which the floods had brought to so many people: to the elderly couple who had just put all their savings into a seaside caravan for letting now, and later to be a home for their retirement, which had been washed out to sea; to the old man whose wife and the grandson they had brought up had been drowned and who must be helped to plan the remaining years of his life in a different setting. But, most important of all, the CAB workers were able, by the very nature of their experience and training, to act all through as interpreter to the authorities of the needs and wishes of the victims. and to the victims of the intentions and difficulties of the authorities - to explain. for instance. to the one the reasons for changes in the compensation policy as more and more money was subscribed to the Fund, and to the other why those tumbledown shacks by the sea had really been an important source of income from summer lettings. As a journalist put it in writing a brief account of 'Citizens. Advice Bureaux in an Emergency', the flood disaster proved again that 'governmental efficiency and private benevolence are in danger of being wasted unless they are understood and appreciated by the man they are meant for - the man in the street.'

This was to prove a yet more difficult task in the next big emergencies with which the CAB service was concerned: the influx of refugees from Hungary after the uprising in October 1956 and of British subjects expelled from Egypt after the Suez crisis a few weeks later. For these were people who had not only lost their homes and belongings. and often their families; but who had had to take refuge in

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a strange country whose ways were unknown to them and whose language many of them could not speak or understand. This was no less true of many of the British from Egypt than of the Hungarians; for most of them had lived there much or all of their lives and in conditions more alien to England's than were those of central Europe. Once again CAB workers helped the volunteers from many other organisations and the officers of the government departments most concerned with 'first-aid' work in the early days; settled down at the next stage as advice and liaison officers in the hostels provided by the government and by voluntary bodies, explaining special grants policy, or ordinary health and security provisions, arranging language classes, trying to re-unite separated families. Then, for many months, at the hostels and in the CABx in places all over the country to which refugees eventually dispersed, they worked for their permanent resettlement, helping to find houses, jobs, education, training, and to solve personal problems of a complexity which was new even to such seasoned bureau workers, and which ranged from the perplexities of the duke's daughter who had made Egypt her home many years ago to the difficulties of the father of a large family who found the opportunities for a beggar in London very poor compared with those he had enjoyed in Cairo.

All this experience was garnered and sifted and added to the stock which the CAB service was able to draw upon to meet the next emergency. The increase in the number of immigrants from the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Cyprus and West Africa, which began in 1948, was not an emergency in quite the same sense as the others, but it has brought many of the same kind of problems as the arrival of the refugees and the British expelled from Egypt. In the early days of migration after the war special provisions were made by the CAB in Lambeth to help the immigrants to settle into thelr new surroundings; and a West Indian social worker has been employed at the Kensington bureau for some years. In other places too CAB workers have been able to take a full share in helping them and their sometimes unwilling hosts because this was not the first time that they had seen the strains and misunderstanding which a different culture, different standards, and a lack of knowledge of the other man's way of life are bound to make for both parties to the contract. Nor is it likely to be the last time, though each new crisis has its own characteristics which it is one of the skills of the CAB service to recognise quickly and respond to with flexibility and understanding.


Citizens' advice bureaux seem destined more and more to have their scope extended and their horizons widened by the results of happenings overseas. The decision of South Africa to leave the Commonwealth in 1961, for instance, brought not only a crop of enquiries about the nationality position of South African residents in this country but a number of requests from British residents in the Union for information about housing, financial and other conditions that would face them should they decide to return to Britain. Similar questions are beginning to come now from several of the other African countries in the Commonwealth which have become, or are about to become, independent.

This is not to say that the CAB service was ever in danger of being insular. Many a bureau from earliest days at the beginning of the war was the friend and confidant of an Austrian or German refugee, fresh from life as a successful lawyer in Munich or as a fine lady in Vienna and now struggling to get work as a labourer, a waiter, or a domestic help. When the Germans overran Europe, remnants of the armed forces of several of the Allied countries managed to escape to Britain, and a few families; and some CAB workers had their first experience of helping to ease the way of newcomers into a community that was strange to them, when they helped, for example, to organise a club for the wives of Czech servicemen, or explained to a Polish soldier why he must not give the slightest clue to his movements in a Red Cross Postal Message to his family at home.

The Red Cross Postal Message Scheme provided throughout the war the farthest-reaching contact of the CAB service which has since touched nearly every corner of the world. Organised by the War Organisation of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John, it was the only way in which people could communicate with their relatives and friends in enemy or enemy-occupied countries, and in the end it reached from the Channel Islands to Japan. (Prisoners of war and alien internees here could use the special prisoner of war post.) Citizens' advice bureaux were asked to operate the scheme so that it would be easy for people all over the country to use it and because, with their experience of explaining war-time regulations, bureau workers were obviously well qualified to help senders to comply with the rigid security regulations governing the sending of messages. A few Red Cross offices and individuals were also registered as Postal Message Bureaux, but about 350 CABx carried the main responsibility, and opportunities, of the service.

It was not an easy task. As well as the care, the precision, the discretion, the knowledge of languages (a dozen different ones could be used) required in transcribing, recording, forwarding, receiving returned messages from the Censorship Department for correction or alteration, and handling the replies, bureau workers often needed as much sympathy and common sense in dealing with the senders as they were accustomed to use in apparently much more complicated personal problems. The aim was simply to give news of personal welfare without letting slip a word about service matters, air-raids, location, political events, which might give the enemy a clue to anything he might conceivably want to know or the smallest handle against the recipient of the message. Senders might be ready to accept that their message must be limited in length and frequency, not written with their own hand, or perhaps in their own language, so as to simplify censorship and speed despatch; but they were naturally so anxious to get news through to relatives from whom they had long been parted that some seemed incapable of understanding restrictions which were in fact for their own protection, and with others it appeared to be a point of honour to try to cheat the regulations by all kinds of dodges - cryptic phrases, passages from the Bible, initials, family catch- words - all of which the censor would laboriously reject. But by the middle of the war about 25,000 messages a month were going out through CABx alone and at times even larger batches of replies were coming in, putting commonplace, tragic, or romantic stories into the briefest of cold words, which yet to the recipient were like the crumpled petals of those Japanese flowers which, put into the right element, blossom as the rose. 'They may be a frail and artificial growth', said the organiser of the scheme at CAB headquarters, 'but they seem to me a promise of the flowering not only of normal relations once again between families and friends of the same race, but of closer relations between us and many other nations. For the thousands of foreigners, as well as our own people, who are using the service, will never forget the help and friendship which the Red Cross Message Bureau workers gave them in these hard years; and will carry that leaven of sympathy and understanding with them when they return from exile.'

And not only sympathy and understanding: some of the exiles took back with them also a body of knowledge and experience of the whole CAB service as a basis for post-war relief work in their own liberated countries, and perhaps for a more lasting service in the years to come. Representatives of Allied Governments in exilc here had been so much impressed by the value of CAB work throughout the war, and by the way in which it was done, that early in 1944 they asked the National Council of Social Service to arrange a training course for their own senior welfare officers designed to equip them to establish national information and advice services, operated by local people for the local community, when they were able to return to their liberated countries. Later in the year one of the National Council's senior officers, who was largely responsible for the papers which formed the basis of the course and which were published in 1944 as a handbook, Citizens' Advice Bureaux in Britain and Advice Centres in Liberated Europe, was seconded to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help to plan courses in America for relief workers training for emergency welfare services abroad.

So began that interest in the application of CAB principles and practice to situations far away in space and character from those of the home field, which in the next twenty years was to result in the establishment of citizens' advice bureaux in places as unlike Britain and one another as African townships and Australian cities; new countries like Israel and old countries like India. The partnership in this country between voluntary organisations and the state which we now tend to take for granted is always a focus of interest to visitors from abroad who are concerned with social policy; and increasingly the particular illustration of this which the CAB service shows has captured their attention. A paragraph in the annual report of the National CAB Committee in 1959 gives an indication of the wide spread of this interest: 'Information has been sought by the Central Office of Information for transmission to India and the Sudan; and by the BBC for broadcasts to Persia, Russia and the Middle East. Officials from Japan, Canada, India, Egypt, Burma and Israel have been interviewed in the department and visits to bureaux arranged. Earlier contacts have resulted in the formation of bureaux in India, in Kingston, Jamaica, and in Adelaide, Australia.'

Since then hardly a month has gone by without some enquiry or a visit from someone from an overseas country which wishes to consider the relevance of CAB principles and practices to its community. Bureaux have been established in Georgetown, British Guiana, in Perth, Australia, and in Haifa, Israel, where there are also, in Tel Aviv, seven municipal information offices which undertake a good deal of advisory work. (A CAB set up in Nairobi, Kenya, by the retired organiser of the Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, bureau, ran successfully for a short time and unfortunately had to close for lack of adequate financial support.) Coming nearer home, Holland had a careful study made of the CAB service and its possible relevance to the situation there; and Denmark, in spite of already having an Ombudsman, appointed a commission to consider the need for CABx also.

Even more interesting perhaps is the adoption of the idea by several African countries with problems and policies so unlike, on the face of them, both one another's and those of Britain. In Southern Rhodesia a representative group of people considering the provision of some sort of information and advice service were helped by a visit from the national CAB secretary in 1959 and one year later from an experienced CAB advisory officer to promote a full CAB service, with bureaux manned by trained voluntary workers of all races, not only in Salisbury and Bulawayo but also in two African townships on the outskirts of Salisbury where the European workers are assistants to the African worker in charge.

In South Africa a visit from the CAB organiser from Salisbury helped with the setting up of fully representative committees in both Cape Town and Johannesburg in 1961, and the Cape Town bureau was able to begin work almost at once with premises in the centre of the shopping area, a full-time secretary, a part-time assistant, and a panel of voluntary workers.

The national secretary also paid a flying visit to Ghana in 1961, at the invitation of the Ghanaian Minister of Information, to discuss a government-promoted information and advice service for individuals. It was evident that, in a country of such rapid growth and change, a service of this kind would be of great value, different though it would inevitably be from the CAB service at home; and in fact the Deputy Minister of Information, in opening later one of the eight information centres planned, said that it was hoped that they would 'in time develop into citizens' advisory bureaux to help people with their personal problems'.

The remarks of a London CAB organiser returning from a visit to Southern Rhodesia sum up the general experience on citizens' advice bureaux overseas: 'It is a revelation to see a CAB at work in another continent, not because it is different from ones at home but because it is so much the same. It seems to prove that the citizens' advice bureau is fundamentally sound, yet flexible and versatile - that this practical, down-to-earth service of information, advice, help and support meets as great a need in Salisbury as in Southwark.'

gold bar  *   The National Council of Social Service produced a booklet for citizens' advice bureaux local advisers, Information after Air Raids, covering such subjects as billeting and evacuation, casualties and missing, funeral and mortuary arrangements, replacements of lost or damaged documents, and immediate needs. gold bar
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