Citizens Advice staff describe negative culture and ‘lack of leadership and direction’

21 May 2024 News

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Citizens Advice

Former and current employees at Citizens Advice have described a negative work environment at the charity, which could make up to 57 posts redundant this financial year.

Several people who wished to remain anonymous told Civil Society that chief executive Clare Moriarty, who has led the charity since April 2021, has overspent and gridlocked decision-making.

Two sources accused her of “gaslighting” while three accused her of “lying to” and “bullying” staff and putting the charity at risk, with one person describing the working environment as “toxic”.

A recent internal survey by workers’ union Unite, seen by Civil Society, shows widespread concerns among staff at Citizens Advice about the charity’s executive leadership, strategy and financial management.

Staff also reported struggling to manage their wellbeing over the past year, with 38% of all sickness absences from February 2023 to January 2024 due to mental health issues, stress and anxiety.

Earlier this year, Citizens Advice identified 57 roles potentially at risk in 2024-25, but the charity said the actual number of redundancies is likely to be smaller as some employees will get new jobs at the organisation or leave for unrelated reasons. 

The charity told Civil Society that it was operating in a “challenging financial and economic environment” and faced huge demand. 

“We understand this is a difficult and unsettling time for all colleagues affected by change at Citizens Advice,” a spokesperson said. 

“The most important thing for us is to ensure staff are fully supported. We’ll also continue to work closely with the union, listen to feedback and communicate regularly with colleagues.”

Moriarty did not respond to an invitation to comment on the allegations against her.

‘Gaslighting’, ‘bullying’ and other accusations

Former and current staff made several accusations including of Moriarty “gaslighting” and “lying to” employees and displaying “bullying” behaviour.

One person said senior employees have been leaving in droves as they cannot continue to work with her or put up “with the toxic culture”. 

They said staff attrition rates have hit at least 30% at various points over the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, there was an increase in the number of employees earning £60,000 or above from 82 to 95 between April 2022 and April 2023, according to the charity’s accounts.

A report by Moorhouse Consulting, commissioned last year by Citizens Advice and seen by Civil Society, shows that the number of directors and heads across the charity has “more than doubled” in the last four years.

Another document shows that Citizens Advice budgeted to deliver “an unrestricted deficit of £3m or better” in 2024-25. However, the anonymous source said this is based on the charity “achieving significant growth in income and saving £5m”. 

“Senior management has continued to overspend despite constant questions from the union and staff and is still recruiting to senior roles even now,” the source said.

“The union survey results show that there isn’t a clear strategy in place and that the chief executive constantly changes her mind on key issues and doesn’t appear to have a plan, which makes it impossible for many people to do their jobs effectively.”

Another source said: “I believe this situation will only continue to worsen under this CEO. 

“Whilst she tries to blame other factors, she has spent far too much money and doesn’t have the credibility with staff to turn the situation around.”

According to the charity’s accounts for the year to 31 March 2023, total income increased by 8% to £166.3m, exceeding expenditure by £12.9m. However, this expenditure does not include a £10.8m “movement in pension provision”.

Unite survey 

Last month, Unite members at Citizens Advice responded to an internal wellbeing and work environment survey. 

Unite told Civil Society that its members represent “a large majority of the staff body at Citizens Advice” with over half of them responding to the survey. Citizens Advice’s latest annual accounts show that it has 1,009 employees.  

The survey finds that 38% of all sickness absences between February 2023 and January 2024 were due to stress, mental health and anxiety, which is 15% higher than the NHS.

Over nine in 10 respondents said they are not confident that Citizens Advice has a clear strategy and direction for travel.

Some 85% said they do not have confidence in the executive leadership’s ability to secure the financial sustainability of the charity. 

One respondent is quoted in the survey as saying: “The handling of it so far has felt chaotic, not well structured, incoherent and unclear. This doesn’t inspire confidence.”

Some 49% of respondents said they feel “very unconfident” that leadership will be effective in transforming the charity, with a further 43% “somewhat unconfident”.

Meanwhile, 51% said their ability to manage their wellbeing and work-related stress has decreased in the past 12 months.

Unite: ‘Lack of transparent and competent leadership’

Will Searby, Unite’s regional officer covering Citizens Advice, said that the national committee of the union at the charity surveyed members “after receiving unprecedented levels of feedback from members expressing concern about the organisation’s direction of travel”.

He said: “Members were particularly worried about a lack of transparent and competent leadership, clear strategy and responsible financial management […].  

“Conducting the survey was essential to ensuring the national committee could fulfil its responsibility of accurately representing and advocating on behalf of our members. 

“The results of the survey show that members at Citizens Advice don’t have confidence in the executive leadership to address the organisation’s financial challenges, nor to provide a clear sense of strategic direction for the service.

“Furthermore, members are concerned that national Citizens Advice isn’t taking sufficient steps to enable the network of local Citizens Advice services to remain resilient and sustainable across England and Wales.

“This is especially concerning given that these are highly challenging times for the charity sector, and more importantly, for the millions of people who use the services.”

Citizens Advice’s full response

A spokesperson for Citizens Advice said: “Our priority is to shape a society where people face far fewer problems, and we have a clear strategy to get us there. We’re determined to ensure we can be there for the millions of people who need our services now and into the future. 

“Like many charities, we’re facing an incredibly challenging financial and economic environment, alongside huge demand for our vital services. Flat or reduced funding and high inflation have impacted our resources. Our pension was also affected by the market turbulence of autumn 2022.

“Faced with these challenges, we’ve developed plans to strengthen our finances by increasing our income and reducing costs, both in the short term and through a longer-term transformation programme. 

“We’re prioritising non-staff savings and limiting external recruitment, but have been open with colleagues that unfortunately we’re likely to see a number of redundancies, including at senior levels.

“We understand this is a difficult and unsettling time for all colleagues affected by change at Citizens Advice. The most important thing for us is to ensure staff are fully supported. We’ll also continue to work closely with the union, listen to feedback and communicate regularly with colleagues.”

According to a valuation conducted last August, Citizen Advice’s pension deficit was £49m at 31 March 2023. The charity said that a new schedule of contributions was agreed to eliminate the deficit by September 2040.

The allegations in this article relate to the national Citizens Advice and not its network of local charities. 

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