Information for funders
Many trusts, foundations and public services commissioners are asking advice providers how they know they provide a good quality service. Quality marks such as the Advice Quality Standard provide one way to demonstrate that a service is well run. Some funders require services to hold a recognised standard such as the AQS.
What does holding the Advice Quality Standard tell a potential funder about that service?
The AQS is only awarded to organisations providing independent, free, social welfare legal advice.
- Most AQS holders give advice in the area of welfare benefits, debt, housing, family, education, immigration and consumer law.
- Their services must be client focussed and give the client all the necessary information and options for the client to then decide their course of action
- Some AQS holders may ask for a donation from clients or make a charge for a specific service. This must be clear and transparent to the client and general access to the service must be free.
The AQS is awarded through an independent, external assessment process.
- The final assessment process is carried out by trained and experienced assessors through a site visit
- The assessors work to strict protocol on the required standards which are applied equally to all organisations
- To ensure the assessors work is fair and reliable, the assessments reports are subject to two levels of review before final sign off
- Assessment reports are delivered to the advice service for use by their senior management teams or Board of Trustees (we do not disclose reports to third parties)
The AQS requires evidence in the following areas:
- Access to the service
- Seamless service
- Running the organisation
- People management
- Running the service
- Meeting client’s needs
- Commitment to quality
- For more information about the evidence requirements, please visit the pages on the AQS.
The AQS requires services to undertake regular file reviews to assure the accuracy of the advice given.
- Services must regularly review their advice work to ensure that all practitioners are giving accurate advice
The AQS award lasts for a total of 2 years and then expires
- During that time, the service is licenced to display the AQS on their publicity materials and correspondence
- They are expected to work to ensure all requirements of the AQS continue to be met by their service and to actively develop their service beyond the minimum requirement
- Services must reply for the AQS before the expiry date otherwise the AQS will lapse at the second anniversary
The AQS assessment can be failed
- Services which do not meet all the requirements will be asked to make corrective actions within a specified time frame. Failure to do so will result in the AQS not being awarded.
- An interim AQS assessment may occasionally be made within the two year period where a service has undergone a radical change
- Very occasionally, and only then where there are very serious evidenced concerns about a service, the AQS may be withdrawn,
Some commissioners of services require that those bidding for tenders of advice services hold the AQS.
Relationship with other quality marks
The Advice Quality Standard (AQS) is the only sector-owned, independently audited standard focusing on advice.
Organisations which hold the AQS will be automatically accredited to the Money Advice Service Quality Framework. The AQS was accredited by MAS in October 2016 for three years.
All Local Citizens Advice meeting the Citizens Advice Membership Standards will also be awarded the AQS. We have licenced Citizens Advice to assess for the AQS as part of their own auditing process. We have a similar arrangement with AgeUK.
The unique aspects of the AQS include:
- AQS has requirements about how case files are kept:
- firstly that written records of advice are kept;
- that they are well organised;
- that conflict of interest checks are carried out;
- and that there is a key dates system.
- Staff must have access to relevant legal material and keep up to date with the law;
- There are requirements about adviser experience and competence;
- Advice supervisors must have two years’ experience, up-to-date practical experience as well as legal knowledge;
- Supervisors must allocate casework to caseworkers in line with their experience;
- Caseworkers have to demonstrate ongoing experience in casework categories;
- Agencies are required to operate an internal file review procedure to ensure quality of advice and adherence to procedures and there must be systems in place to ensure corrective action is taken.
No other voluntary sector standard contains such requirements.
Find organisations currently holding the AQS
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