In the current economic climate not-for-profit advice organisations, in common with many other organisations in the charitable, public and private sectors, are coming under increasing resource pressure, whilst demand for their services is unprecedented.

Many providers say that they are working at full capacity and struggling to meet demand. In fact, since 2008 there has been a steady increase in demand in specific categories with calls relating to debt increasing by 39%, employment by 33% and welfare benefits by 47%.

Most not-for-profit providers have multiple sources of funding. In addition to local and central government, advice trusts and foundations support providers. For example, the Big Lottery Fund has provided grants of between £10,000 and £500,000 to not-for-profit advice providers, amounting to £50m, over the past three years.

Income sources vary considerably between providers, but overall, local and central government are the sector’s main funders. For example, Citizen Advice Bureaux on average receive 40% of their income from local authorities and around 30% from central government.

Looking ahead, funders see collaboration as a vital part of future working and will not look favourably on any organization or network that does not ensure it is maximizing the potential for collaborative and efficient working… and can produce the evidence to support it.

Technology too can play an important part in this move towards a modern digital service. Citizens Advice, in setting out their vision for a responsive welfare system ‘Responsive welfare: building a modern public service’, argues for greater and more open use of digital technology ‘Our vision is that in the future modern digital service design will support the majority of users, freeing up front line staff to support those with more complex needs, within parameters set by local leaders who know what works for their communities’.

Conclusive referrals are seen by many in the advice sector as the cornerstone of an effective advice network, where a client can move from one agency to another receiving the service that best meets their needs from the agency best qualified to deal with the problem and deliver the best possible outcomes for their clients.

The technology to manage and deliver conclusive referrals is certainly available, and delivering for some of the UK’s leading advice networks. Refernet, the UK’s leading online referral system, is successfully delivering audited referral activity between advice agencies and partners, and providing the evidence of conclusive referral delivery that’s required by their funders.