Citizens Advice volunteer wins apology for dismissal

Lettie Fortune's sacking from Lincoln CAB was 'inappropriate', investigation finds

A volunteer has won an 18-month campaign for an apology from Citizens Advice for dismissing her.

Lettie Fortune was told to leave Lincoln and District Citizens Advice Bureau in March last year for making allegedly defamatory comments about bureau manager Roy Trotter. As a volunteer, Fortune had no employment rights and could not contest the decision.

Neither Lincoln CAB nor the national body granted her an appeal, but in July, shortly after she contacted Third Sector, the local bureau asked Professor David Chiddick, vice-chancellor of Lincoln University, to investigate.

Chiddick's report, published this month, urged Lincoln CAB to admit Fortune's dismissal was "inappropriate". It said the evidence against her was uncertain and accusations made by Lincoln CAB chair Tom James were "unproven and/or inappropriate".

Chiddick said the dismissal meeting between James and Fortune was "not conducted in an appropriate way" and that Lincoln CAB "did not provide an environment in which Lettie felt respected or valued".

The report also called on Citizens Advice to apologise for "blatantly misrepresenting" the reason for Fortune's departure to Lincoln MP Gillian Merron. Merron, who had been investigating the matter on behalf of her constituent, was wrongly told by Citizens Advice that the dismissal had been made on performance grounds.

"I'm pleased with the outcome and relieved it's over," said Fortune. "It is only because of Third Sector's interest that the matter got investigated."

A spokesman for the national body said: "We accept that the contents of our letter to Gillian Merron were incorrect and the result of a misunderstanding. Citizens Advice will be writing to Ms Fortune in order to apologise unreservedly for what we said in this letter." Lincoln CAB is expected to respond to the report this week.

TROUBLESHOOTER MOVE

Citizens Advice has appointed Julia Dennis as volunteering development manager to help it deal with complaints about and develop policies on volunteering.

Last year, 28 volunteers at York CAB resigned in protest at a colleague's treatment, and this year three South Kilburn CAB volunteers complained about their treatment to the local MP.

Dennis will deal with specific cases as well as developing procedures for the charity's 20,000 unpaid staff.

A Citizens Advice spokesman said the charity recognised there had been problems. "Where possible, we want similar procedures to apply to staff and volunteers," he said.

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