Regulation: Service users

Rosie Chapman, executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission, on making it easy

What do English National Opera and Shelter have in common? Both are charities, of course. But many people who use the services of the former might shudder at the idea of ever needing the latter.

Our recent report A Balancing Act: New Perspectives On The Charity/Beneficiary Relationship showed that nearly a third of potential beneficiaries would be deterred from using services provided by charities because they would feel embarrassed.

And yet, despite this stigma, many charities are finding that demand for their services is escalating. Citizens Advice, for example, is reporting huge increases in demand for repossession and debt advice: there are queues outside my local Citizens Advice Bureau long before it opens.

In these troubled economic times, many people are seeking advice out of sheer necessity. But could it also be that the idea of sitting down with an adviser and working things through together helps remove the feeling of being a passive recipient of help?

At the launch of the report, one service user urged charities to show people that a key part of what they do is empower the people they support, rather than simply help people who can't help themselves. Making this clear in every medium, from websites to fundraising literature, is a positive start.

Many people who previously classed themselves in the ENO group will now be using the services of other charities for the first time in their lives. Make it as easy for them as possible: make it clear you work with your users, not 'at' them.

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