Association of Citizen Advice Bureaus celebrates five years of existence

From time to time each of us encounters a problem which we don't know how to handle and there's no one at hand we can ask. But not everyone knows that they can get the information they need free of charge, if they turn to one of a network of counseling centres scattered throughout the country.

This year an umbrella organization associating 19 such centres celebrates its 5th year of existence, and Radio Prague spoke to its director, Petra Francova:

"Our name is the Association of Citizen Advice Bureaus. This is quite an old-fashioned name but those who are acquainted with the British system of citizen advice bureaus understand what's the matter. In fact it's general advising - anyone can come to our advice centres with any problem and it's a system of a one-door approach, that means that people can come and we either help them directly to solve their problems or we signpost them to another organization."

The Association of Citizen Advice Bureaus is a non-profit organization, but it has experts who help people learn more about their rights and duties and advise them how to defend their interests. So how does the whole system work? Ms. Francova again:

"In fact our system is very similar to the British system and we have close contacts with Britain, and it is based on a core that is paid in each advice centre and there are volunteers around this paid core. These volunteers are trained in how to provide advice, how to communicate with clients and they look into information database, that's a source of information which is regularly updated and is provided to them from the coordination centre, that's the place where we're sitting now. Here we develop information system for each advice centre, which is used all over the network, and we produce training materials, and are such a methodical centre. We get the statistics and help them with their development."

The number of clients is on the rise. In the year 2001 alone, the number of requests reached nearly 17,000. So what are the main problems, the most frequent requests that people turn to the advice bureaus with?

"Most frequently it concerns housing problems, some 16 percent, the same goes for family and interpersonal problems. Then very frequently people come to solve possession - that is contracts, inheritance and this kind of things, and legal problems, legal assistance that is connected with the administration law, when people need to solve something in the local government or central government and also very common are employment problems."