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Triple A for citizens gives free help to citizens by providing them with information, advice and other forms of active support (among which legal aid is dominant) by independent organizations. However, in addition to direct assistance to individuals, this concept implies that organizations should collect data about issues within their societies. This data is used when advocating for change in policies and legislation at the international, national and local levels.

 

The utility of this kind of assistance provided by non-governmental organizations in Western Europe has been recognized by national and local authorities who in various ways support their work. In order to receive this support, non-governmental organizations must provide a high-quality and continuous service to citizens. Quality is the value that can be reached only on the basis of long-term work experience, education and professional development. Reaching this quality of work depends on various factors. For example, in Ireland, Citizens Information Board (CIB) – a body established by the law, provides active help to local Citizens Information Centers (CIC). CIB organizes trainings for staff of CICs, which are unqualified so that they can receive a certified diploma for work. In addition to this, Citizens Information Board does the allocation of budget funds for local (non-governmental) centers – thereby it provides ongoing services, and it has provided useful tools for the work of local organizations. First of all, this body has created an informational website www.citizensinformation.iethat has facilitated the use and search by category characteristics (which enables holistic approach in providing information) and areas (such as social security, employment, and housing) for its users. This website also contains a directory of all Citizens Information Centres, in which work officers and information specialists are listed by area of specialty(debt, housing, labor relations).

 

 

On the other hand, in Ireland, there are organizations such as  Free Legal Advice Centres-(FLAC) whose work is based on the engagement of professional volunteers, where law graduates, solicitors and barristers provide free legal information to users via a telephone information line or in person, as a part of their time. Volunteers do not need trainings to start working, because they are experts in their profession. Nevertheless, they pass through specialized trainings in specified areas, which is an additional motivation for engaging young professionals as volunteers.

 

Law graduates usually work on the informative telephone line under the supervision of a solicitor, who is engaged full-time. They do not meet with clients face-to-face, they only consult via the telephone info line. Each volunteer works four hour shifts because it is difficult to manage the demand of constant calls for more than that. Volunteers provide advice in various areas and each session usually lasts for 20 min. At the beginning of each session, the user is clearly informed of what he/she can expect from the call and for how long the session can last. However, if a particular user of the center has a case that can be qualified as strategic, it can be forwarded to solicitor for review.

 

Legal advice can also be provided by solicitors – volunteers. For the purpose of this activity, FLAC cooperates with the Citizens Information Centers (CIC), which then provides facilities and schedules meetings with clients.

 

Events such as the “Volunteer of the Year”, are organized in order to gather qualified professionals who can offer their time and expertise to FLAC. Volunteering for FLAC is seen as a prestigious thing, and today there are 73 Free Legal Advice Centres.

 

In building the concept of Triple A in Serbia, reaching an excellent quality of work within NGOs is the biggest challenge. This is especially true due to the lack of quality control which is most often used against the inclusion of non-governmental organizations in providing free legal aid.

 

During the study visit to NGOs in London and Dublin, we could see that several preconditions are necessary for the achievement of quality control, of which the most significant is making complete records of services provided to users. Keeping records is a challenge in organizational terms, especially for those organizations that aspire to be open to clients all the time. Some organizations allocate one whole day or a part of the day in order to sort out these records.

 

The records are being made in paper and electronic form. Paper forms are specially designed, depending on the type of services that are being provided (as in the case of the Citizens Information Centers in Ireland) or in different color  (as in Croydon Age UK), in order to distinct these papers from others.

Each advisor has his/her own filing cabinet that contains the files of complex cases that the advisor led. Items are stored in paper form for certain period of time, depending on the legal requirements (2-4 years).

 

Organizations also keep an electronic database where they record and statistically handle all types of provided services. Each advisor is required to enter the obtained data. It is interesting that the database of the Citizens Information Centers in Ireland is unified, and that the Citizens Information Board also has access to it. Database’s provides easy access to information regarding promptness in solving cases and demand for (our) services.

 

In Ireland, control over the work of local organizations for citizens information is preformed by one state body (through the developed questionnaires for self-assessment, insight into the data base, insight into the reports, direct visits, etc.). The UK has established a different system of quality control. Every four years, local citizens advice bureaus (CAB) go thorough revision by the national CAB (umbrella NGO), which assesses the percentage of success of these local organizations, based on clear indicators of the quality of work. At the end of the revision each CAB receives recommendations, and implementation is observed for a period of 6 months.  After this the national CAB bureau can decide whether a local CAB can continue to provide services.

 

The prior consent of clients is common to all control checks, in order to determine whether provided help was in line with the regulations on the protection of personal data. Led by the example of Age UK Croydon, YUCOM, for a starter, developed a form of the consent for all clients, providing quality control and services in compliance with the Law on Personal Data Protection, which we strongly recommend for other organizations which follow the concept of Triple A in Serbia.

 

 

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