Getting older brings new challenges. From arranging care to managing pensions, navigating new situations can leave older people and their families with plenty of questions. It’s vital that someone is there to answer them.
The Age UK Advice Line does just that. Taking calls every day of the year – including Christmas Day – our advisors provide timely support and information, whatever the query or concern. We recently caught up with some members of this very special team to find out how they help and why it means so much.
Expertise and empathy
Peta is one of many advisors answering calls, listening to queries and finding solutions. “We are the starting point for callers’ queries,” she explains. “It might be about needing a plumber or a gardener, or asking for benefits advice. There’s a huge variety of questions – we’ve even had calls from people over the age of 60, 70 and in some cases 80 who are about to become homeless. You have to be ready for anything.”
For Peta and her colleagues, this requires a quick assessment of the scale of support that’s required and, if needed, directing the caller to a relevant, specialist advisor to provide more in-depth answers.
Advisors like Darren are responsible for answering these forwarded calls. Over the course of a phone conversation, Darren and his team members listen, advise and ask the right questions to help callers who are experiencing difficult situations work out what to do next.
When I talk to callers, I treat them with the care and respect that I would members of my own family.
“If it’s more detailed information they need, that’s what we’re trained to provide,” explains Darren. “The calls might last 5 minutes, or they might last 50 minutes. They can be emotional and in-depth – people with fears, concerns, issues or complaints. I’m not a particularly young man any longer, and I have older parents, so I can really empathise with the things that are raised. So, when I talk to callers, I treat them with the care and respect that I would members of my own family.
“I think that’s important, because ultimately everyone who calls is just trying to get the right information, and hopefully get help for whoever needs it. So, I’ll go into detail on topics like legal issues, care funding or whatever it might be, using the knowledge we’ve gathered through our training programme.”
This training is extensive – as Emma, who’s new to the team, can testify. “I’ve only just started and have been taking calls for two weeks,” Emma tells us. “But before that I had 4 months of training, going through legal terms and subjects like social care, benefits and housing. Now I’m fully fledged! It’s the best training I’ve ever had, and it’s meant that I’ve gone into my job knowing exactly what I’m doing.”
Here to help
Being there with the right answers to complex questions can be demanding – especially when callers are facing particularly emotional and stressful situations.
In her eight months at Age UK, Savannah has already answered thousands of calls, noticing an increased number of concerns about the cost of living during the winter months. “People are worried about what’s going to happen with their finances,” she explains. “It’s my job to advise them of the relevant helplines, provide written information to assist with their enquiries, and in some cases we book a benefits check, which can be really helpful.
“Some of the harder calls are people who are isolated completely,” continues Savannah, “so they don’t have the usual friends and family that are going to be there supporting them.”
Offering support to older people who have no one else to turn to is at the heart of the work done by Age UK’s advisors. But being there for each other through tough situations is also crucial to the team.
Knowing that people are spending so much time on the phone just to get the information they need, and then being able to help is wonderful.
“If you have a difficult call, you get the support you need,” Darren tells us. “The team are unbelievably supportive. I didn’t realise work could be like that. But I’ve always liked helping people – you get a huge degree of satisfaction from it.”
Peta agrees. “At the bottom line, we’re all here to help each other and there is a real warmth. We can bolster each other, and we all want to do a positive and productive job. There are lots of rewarding moments on the calls where people say, ‘I didn’t know that before – thank you’ or ‘it seems so simple now’. Knowing that people are spending so much time on the phone just to get the information they need, and then being able to help is wonderful.”
And for anyone thinking of calling the Age UK Advice Line, the message from the team is clear. “I just like to remind people that there are people at the other end of the phone,” says Savannah. “There’s lots of help, and no job is too small. We will always do our best to help.”
Age UK know what to do
Get the right answers at the right time by calling the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602, or by reading our online information and advice.