Help is at hand

Published on: 9 April 2020

We all know that it can be a challenge to have the right advice at your fingertips when you need it.

Even more so when you are facing a difficult situation or where you need to support someone in crisis and take action to help them, rather than just offering kind words.

The Norfolk Community Advice Network (NCAN) is a partnership of charities, with Norfolk Community Law Service as the lead. It draws together a host of organisations and agencies from the voluntary, public and private sectors with the objective to ensure that every resident of Norfolk can access free, high-quality social welfare advice when they need it. Firstly, they offer an easily accessible online directory of different organisations working locally, each with a description of what free legal and social welfare advice they provide, ranging from housing, debt and immigration, to mental health, welfare benefits and civil law. In addition, NCAN operates a free Referral System, currently used by over 50 charities, which allows workers to assist individuals by inputting details to an online form and directing a referral securely and quickly to the most appropriate support organisation(s).

A ‘no wrong door’ commitment ensures that the organisation receiving the referral has some basic
information about the person’s situation and takes responsibility for contacting the client which helps
prevent vulnerable people in need of support from falling through gaps in service provision.

Ongoing progress and forwarding of referrals to other agencies can also be tracked. Hannah Worsley, Norwich Foodbank Project Manager utilises the system. She says: “We have dedicated sign-posters at foodbank centres so it seemed a natural progression to incorporate the ability to refer to agencies to further support our clients. Many of the people we see live chaotic lives so saying “take a phone number/address and make an appointment” just won’t work; to make a referral with them is extremely useful. It also means our volunteers don’t have to know everything about every agency as it’s on the system. The most useful thing about the Referral System is being able to make a referral straight away, not having to be on hold on the phone or wait for a drop-in session.”

If you are looking for additional support for people you work with, would like information about local organisations which you can signpost people to, or perhaps have an initiative working directly with vulnerable people and would benefit from access to the Referral System, please visit for more information.

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