With personalisation giving older people more choice and control over the services they use, advocacy services are going to be an increasingly popular choice for providing help and advice. But what are they, and how do they work? Robert Mair reports.

In this article:

  1. What are advocacy services?
  2. What is an advocate?
  3. The role of advocacy services
  4. Users of advocacy services
  5. Non-instructed advocacy
  6. Types of advocacy services
  7. Specialised advocacy
  8. Self advocacy
  9. Contacting a service
  10. What if advocacy isn’t available?

What are advocacy services?

Advocacy services provide support, information and encouragement from an impartial viewpoint. Many will be independent from service providers, local authorities and the Government.

The aim of advocacy services is to get those excluded from society re-engaged, raising hope and expectations.

What is an advocate?

Advocacy services are traditionally offered by social workers, but are now also offered by a range of specialists; anyone from a friend or relative to a paid professional could qualify as an advocate, although social workers may see an increased emphasis on the advocacy part of their role.

The role of advocacy services

Advocacy services act as a conduit between the individual and the various services they use.

They work in several ways, but the overall aim is to allow individuals to communicate effectively with the organisations that support them – either by speaking on their behalf or empowering them to speak for themselves.

Users of advocacy services

Advocates are used by specific groups of people for assistance to access services. These groups include but are not limited to:

  • Older adults
  • People with mental health issues
  • People with learning disabilities
  • People with physical disabilities and/or sensory impairments
  • Carers

Non-instructed advocacy

Also known as non-directed advocacy, non-instructed advocacy refers to cases where the individual has no means of communication. In such cases, the advocate must determine what the person would like to achieve and what should happen in specific circumstances related to the individual’s care or lifestyle.

However, the advocate should not claim to speak on the person’s behalf or to have complete knowledge of the person’s wishes – simply an ability to convey what would be in their best interests.

Types of advocacy services

Various types of advocacy services exist, including:

  • Independent professional advocacy services – this is a service provided by professionals, who offer advocacy on specific issues. They provide an information service, rather than advice, and may support several people at the same time.
  • Citizen advocacy – this is advocacy support provided by members of the public or trained volunteers. The system is based on trust, relying on the relationship between the advocate and the person needing support. There is usually no cost attached to this form of advocacy.
  • Group advocacy - also known as collective advocacy – this is where a group of people facing similar issues band together to support each other.
  • Peer advocacy – is where the advocate has gone through a similar experience to the individual and can empathise and provide advice on the situation.
  • Legal advocacy – where a solicitor or legal representative speaks on the user’s behalf.
  • Short-term advocacy – This includes crisis advocacy, where an advocate is needed at short notice to resolve an urgent difficulty, and 1-to-1 advocacy, where an individual seeks help from an advocate on a specific issue.

Specialised advocacy

Many advocates specialise in specific areas, such as providing support for older people or those with certain conditions.

For example, Advocacy Plus (http://www.advocacyplus.org.uk) provides advocacy services for older people, as does the Older Persons Advocacy Alliance, or OPAAL, (http://www.opaal.org.uk/).


Some people want the opportunity to speak up for themselves, but often need encouragement and confidence to do so. Some agencies provide appropriate support and can signpost users to find classes in such things as assertiveness training, which give people the opportunity and ability to represent themselves when the need arises.

Self-advocacy does not solely refer to an individual – groups can also do it. If, for example, a group has banded together over a particular issue and can speak as a collective, then they are said to self advocate.

Contacting a service

Numerous organisations can put people in touch with relevant advocacy services, such as local social services offices. Alternatively, Action for Advocacy (www.actionforadvocacy.org.uk) has an online searchable database of advocacy agencies in England and Wales, and operates the Advocacy finder line on 08451 22 86 33.

What if advocacy isn’t available?

While advocacy services have grown in popularity in recent years, some areas may not yet have a relevant service available – especially formal advocacy services provided by charities or established organisations. In this case, any local Citizen’s Advice Bureau should be able to provide further information about what is available in an area.