Code of Service

In this document ‘a client’ is defined as a union member, their dependants, a member of union staff or anyone else we have agreed to advise, who has contacted DSU Advice Centre in person, by telephone, e-mail or in any other manner, from the time of their first contact, and irrespective of whether any formal written statement of clientship (a casework sheet, etc.) exists or not.

1. DSU Advice Centre

1.1 Our General Aims and Purposes

DSU Advice Centre is a service operated by and within the Students’ Union and is funded solely by Durham Students’ Union. Our aim is to offer or obtain information, advice, support and (where appropriate) advocacy to Union members and Union staff on any subject. Our service is free, professional, independent, impartial and confidential, and available to all eligible parties equally.

1.2 Staff

DSU Advice Centre staff are professionals and undergo continuous training in general advice giving and in specialist subjects. The Student Advisor is responsible to the Welfare Services Manager who is in turn responsible to the General Manager and Education & Welfare Office. Every effort has been made to ensure that staff members undergo appropriate training; and that they receive appropriate supervision and support

1.3 Working procedures

For complex enquiries clients are expected to make appointments where possible. The Advice Centre will only in circumstances where access is difficult enter into e-mail advice. All clients who are in contact with us by e-mail will be made aware that the Advice Centre cannot guarantee confidentiality.

2.0 Client Care

DSU Advice Centre should at all times

• Welcome clients and make them feel at ease;
• Listen sympathetically and with due regard to any cultural differences;
• Access all relevant aspects of any case presented;
• Inform the client of available options and check these are understood;
• Enable and if appropriate assist the clients to pursue their chosen course.
• The primary consideration of DSU Advice Centre staff must be at all times to promote the welfare of the client and to act in no way prejudicial to her/his interests. Staff also have a specific duty of care towards all University of Durham students, as well as an obligation to take account of the interests of students in the UK generally.

2.1 Client empowerment

DSU Advice Centre should ensure that clients at all times retain control of their own cases. Clients alone determine what their own interests are, which course of action they wish to follow or wish staff to follow on their behalf, subject to the provisions of section 5 below (limitation of service).

2.2 Impartiality

Staff should remain impartial and not express personal preferences to seek to influence clients as to which course of action they should choose.

2.3 Independence

DSU Advice Centre is independent of the University and DSU regardless of its funding arrangements. The advice and information DSU Advice Centre give is determined by the best interests of our clients, subject only to our limitations of service (section 5 below).

2.4 Confidentiality

All our clients are entitled to receive the most careful and diligent service that can reasonably be expected from DSU Advice Centre as promptly as possible in relation to the demands of the case. If a member of staff finds that s/he does not have the specialist knowledge to deal with a client’s problem s/he could consult a colleague or an outside agency or formally refer the client on if the client consents.

When referring clients to outside agencies DSU Advice Centre staff will explain the possible implications, financial or other, of this step to the client. It is the duty of our staff to keep a proper record of all visits, telephone, correspondence and other actions taken in pursuance of the client’s case. DSU Advice Centre staff endeavour to keep clients properly informed of developments in their case.

If a member of staff feels unable to cope with a particular matter at a particular time then s/he will either postpone dealing with it or hand it over to a colleague or to an outside agency, as the client prefers.

3 Choice of Advisor

When a client visits DSU Advice Centre s/he will normally first be seen by a staff member at reception. This person will briefly assess which advisor should deal with the enquiry and make an appropriate time for the client to be seen by an advisor.

If a client at any time feels uneasy with a particular DSU Advice Centre staff member or dissatisfied with the service given s/he; will be encouraged in the first instance to discuss the matter with the staff member concerned, who is expected to respond in a constructive fashion; If this does not satisfy the client s/he may ask to see another member of staff. This request can be made to the Welfare Services Manager, Education & Welfare Officer or the Student Advisor, which ever the client prefers. Alternatively, or additionally, the client may wish to make a formal complaint (see section 8 below).

A request to transfer to another advisor will normally be refused if
• it stems from an attitude in conflict with our Equal Opportunities Policy;
• it is based on whim or manipulative intent;
• it arises from inappropriate expectations of our role;
• service has been formally withdrawn from the client under the provisions of section 5 below.

4 Conflict of Interest

No advisor can knowingly interview or otherwise serve both parties to a dispute or other conflict of interest. In the event that a conflict between two clients is brought to DSU Advice Centre, the duty of the advisor initially approached is to the first presenting client. It is however acceptable that different advisors within DSU Advice Centre advise/assist the opposing parties; provided that the advisors then ensure that a barrier of confidentiality is observed between them.

To avoid revealing that the other party has already consulted DSU Advice Centre the following procedure should be followed:

• Where the client makes it clear at the outset that the other party is also a potential client the advisor should ask permission to reveal if approached by the other party on the same issue, that s/he has already been consulted by the client. If permission is given, there will be no breach of confidentiality provided the advisor explains to the other party why s/he cannot see them;
• If the client refuses, the matter should be referred to the Education & Welfare Officer as this refusal will potentially place the advisor in an impossible position - in such a situation the Education & Welfare Officer may have no alternative but to refuse service;
• If the conflict of interest is unforeseen and becomes apparent only in the course of an interview the staff member should seek, under some suitable contrived pretext, to refer the other party to another advisor with DSU Advice Centre or to an outside agency. If nevertheless the client becomes aware that the other party has already approached DSU Advice Centre this is unfortunate but can not be construed as a culpable breach of confidentiality on the advisors part.

5. Refusal/Limitation/Withdrawal of Service

If assisting in the client’s chosen course would conflict with DSU Advice Centre’s or Student Union’s regulations and guidelines or with the law, then the advisor concerned should:

• Decline to follow it and explain to the client why
• Suggest alternative acceptable and legitimate courses, and
• If possible indicate to the client alternative sources of advice/assistance to which s/he might turn.

DSU Advice Centre will limit assistance to advice, where following the course of action preferred by a client, would be likely in the Advisor’s considered opinion, to prove detrimental to the client’s interests or would bring the Advisor, DSU Advice Centre or the Union into serious disrepute. Such decisions should be discussed with The Welfare Services Manager if the client is dissatisfied with the explanation given.

DSU Advice Centre reserves the right (subject to confirmation by the Welfare Services Manager) to withdraw from a client’s case if:

• S/he finds that a client has deliberately lied on material issues (thus potentially compromising the reputation and standing of both the Advisor and DSU Advice Centre); or
• The client becomes abusive or violent to the Advisor; or
• The client attempts to involve the Advisor in immoral or illegal pursuits; or
• The client persistently, and without good cause, fails to keep appointments or in other ways wastes the Advisor’s time, such as by continually seeking our advice but never acting on it.

6. Clients’ Responsibilities

Our Clients too have certain responsibilities, notably:-

To treat our Advisors with respect and refrain from violence, intimidation or abuse;
Not knowingly to deceive an Advisor or withhold relevant information in such a way as to compromise the advice or assistance being sought.

Not to seek to involve the Advisors in any unethical or illegal activity (as opposed to seeking their advice about illegal acts already committed by the client, which is perfectly acceptable);

To inform us of their inability to attend a pre-arranged interview;

To inform us if they are also consulting others (in particular another DSU Advice Centre Advisor, University staff, solicitor, other advice agency) on the same issue;

To inform us of any decision to drop, or change their position on a matter being pursued by DSU Advice Centre;

To inform of any relevant change in their circumstances address, etc.

7. Evaluation

It is in the interests of all parties and of good-quality service that we should be able to gauge the effectiveness of our service including our literature, and how our clients perceive the manner in which we provide it.

To this end our clients are invited to make suggestions and/or comment or complain about any aspect of our service, anonymously and confidentially if they so wish.

8. Complaints procedure

If a client has a serious complaint about any aspect of our service, or a complaint about any member of DSU Advice Centre staff, we actively encourage them to make it known formally, in person or in writing, to: the particular advisor concerned, and or the Welfare Services Manager
Clients may take their complaint in the above order until they are satisfied with the result or directly to the Welfare Services Manager.

If the matter is not resolved at these levels the complaint should be referred to DSU’s complaints procedure (available from DSU Advice Centre or DSU). All complaints will be given serious consideration in the strictest confidence.

Written complaints should give details of the complainant (including a means of contact), details of the person or aspect of service complained about, and a detailed statement of the complaint.

9. Equal Opportunities

Both staff and clients of DSU Advice Centre are bound by the equal opportunities policy issued by DSU and by its disciplinary and grievance procedures.

DSU’s Advice Centre staff are required to carry out their duties without favour or detriment to any person or group on the basis of colour, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, age or any other unjustifiable criterion.

Equally we require our clients to observe respect for others on the above lines and that no staff member, visitor or other client is made to feel uncomfortable or threatened by remarks made or by literature brought on to our premises.

Failure to comply with this requirement will entail: in the case of clients or visitors, refusal of service and a request to leave our offices; in the case of staff, invocation and implementation of the disciplinary procedure.