When a young person comes in for an appointment, there may be a wealth of information that they give you, which you need to know and need to break down in order to co produce an action plan to help them move forward in their life. 

When we are supporting a young person to access information this process is more important than ever. 

We need to breakdown this information and identify the Key Issues


This is where we will look at the young person’s issue fully. 

Key Issues can look like this;

“I lost my job a month ago and I don’t know what to do, I’ve got no money for food or rent and it’s making me feel really rubbish about myself to the point where I don’t get up until midday” 

That one sentence tells us that there is a lot going on for the young person. Let’s break it down to the key issues. 

  • Employment - Is there an employment issue here? You might need to check whether or not  this was legal. 
  • Benefits - Is this person entitled to benefits?
  • Mental Health - This person disclosed they are experiencing mental health challenges
  • Money/Debt  - Does this person have rent arrears or any other debts because they have no money?

What are the Key Issues?

  • Benefits
  • Employment/Work
  • Debt and Money
  • Consumer (Shopping including utilities) 
  • Housing 
  • Family
  • Law and Courts
  • Immigration
  • Health 

What do I do with the Key Issues?

We found that breaking down the situation to the Key Issues works really well as it helps both the young person and yourself to pause and reflect on the information

Other benefits  to breaking down the information include;

  • Let’s the young person know you have understood what they have told you
  • Reflects the information back to the young person
  • Checks the information is correct
  • Makes sure that your information is factual, not misleading and not judgemental
  • Disentangles a complex or confusing story
  • Links parts of the story together so the young person can see their own situation more clearly.
  • Gives a fresh view of the situation to the young person
  • Concludes a discussion on a particular aspect of the problem
  • Focuses on an interview that seems to be going nowhere, giving both you and the young person a chance to decide, “What do I do now?”

If the young person is going into a lot of detail, you can use a summary to interject gently

“OK, before you go any further, can I just check that I’ve got this right?”

 Helping you and the young person move on to consider next steps.

Is there an emergency? What is an emergency?

Finding out the important information doesn't have to be formal when trying to understand what is urgent. 

When someone is in crisis, their whole situation might feel urgent to them, but you need to know where to get the information to check if someone is at risk of an emergency and how best to signpost, offer them information or refer them to the appropriate service. 

You will need to check;

  •  What has happened? 
  •  When?
  •  Is there a deadline?
  •  Is there a risk of losing their home/ liberty – This one is extremely important

Has a process commenced, or is the young people in a situation which, if it is not dealt with immediately, or within a short time frame, will have a detrimental effect on them?

We’ve found that an important part of deciding next steps with young people is assessing risk. This means deciding if there are: 

  • Emergencies: such as bailiffs; an eviction notice; court summons; any immediate threat to the person’s home; disclosure of ongoing domestic violence and abuse. 
    Time limited emergencies. Those which need action within a specific time frame. Benefit sanctions/removal of benefits, no access to money. 
  • Consequences: whether the young person’s problem, if left unsolved, could lead to major consequences such as one of the emergencies listed
  • Capacity: is the young person in a strong enough emotional state to manage their issue themselves? are they someone who faces a whole number of problems; for example debts or caring for a relative? It  can be too much for a person to deal with without support; someone experiencing stress or poor mental health may need extra help to address their problems.

Capacity might also be about you and your team's capacity to take on a case and how you decide next steps if you can’t.

How capable is this person to sort this out for themselves if they have the right  information? It’s more empowering for the individual to have the information and tools to act for themselves. 

Having identified the key issues and any Emergencies, the consequences and checked capacity you can move on to the next step of using the Key Issues to research for information online, within your organisation and any printed leaflets in your office. 

Remember; it’s best not  to try to remember information as it is changing all of the time. Always double check your sources.


This is where we can start working through the options.

We know from that key sentence earlier on in the toolkit that the our young person has;

“Got no money for food or rent”

We know that the Key Issue here for this information is Benefits and after checking if there is an emergency, it would be a ‘Time Limited Emergency’  If left unresolved this could potentially escalate to a bigger and more stressful situation. 

What can we do with this information? 

This information can then be used on the Citizens Advice website to streamline your information search. By using the corresponding tabs along the top of the home screen you can safely navigate through to the information you and your young people might need.

It can also be helpful when using key issue/word searches on Google (Or another search engine). 

You know that the young person has; 

“Got no money for food or rent”

A web search  could yield a wide range of varying results, most of which might need a lot of investment to read through to look for the relevant information, of which there might be none. 

Using this method enables you to directly search for the Key Issue and any potential options that might be related. 

How do I know if the information is relevant?! 

This toolkit doesn’t expect you to become information/advice workers, but it will enable you to have the confidence and resources to know where to go to get the information. 

For each young person’s issue there may be a few options for them to resolve it. There might only be one. It’s up to you to know where to look for the information and then for you and the young person to see what is applicable. 

Let’s take our young person who has 

“Got no money for food or rent”

We know that this is a Benefits Key Issue but we don’t know what that means for the young person yet. 

If we use the Citizens Advice website, click on the Benefits tab, it takes us to the Benefits page. 

Remember, we are looking for information relevant to the Key Issue

So what do we know? 

“I lost my job a month ago and I don’t know what to do, I’ve got no money for food or rent”

We know that the young person is NOT working.

We know that they have NO money 

You could click on the link “Benefit calculators: what benefits can you get” 

You would need the young people to provide some information for the calculator. 

Remember to always double check your information and sources as the information changes. 

It might be that as they disclosed they are feeling; 

“really rubbish about myself to the point where I don’t get up until midday”  

It might be appropriate to look into more detail in the Benefits section at Benefits for Sick or Disabled people. 

Again, it’s not knowing what the information is, it’s knowing where to go to get it. 

What if there’s nothing on the website relevant to the young person?

Don’t worry. This can happen and if it does, it means that information you need might be needed from a specialist advice worker. 

This can be especially true for Immigration related issues. 

Remember: you are legally not permitted to give Immigration advice. See preparing young people for immigration advice

Now we’ve worked through the exploration, and started looking at the options

This is where we decide the outcome of our research:

  • Give Information
  • Signpost
  • Make a referral 


Advice and support- what’s the difference? 

“The young people freely agreed that advice without support was usually not enough to help them solve their problems or get out of a crisis.” (Ask Us evaluation report)

Example one: (giving debt advice vs giving support around debts)

Support with information vs advice

What is support?

Support looks to identify the key issues and help break them down for the individual to help prepare them for the advice process.

This can look like the following;

Your client presents with an issue of having no money and receiving letters from creditors. They are finding this all very overwhelming, they can’t pay what is being requested and they don’t know what to do next.

After identifying that this is a Debt key issue, you can start to support them in accessing information about what they might be experiencing and where they can go for advice.

You can ask them questions about any benefits they might be receiving or give them information on benefits they might be eligible for.

You can ask about the debts that they have, are they priority or non priority? Are there any deadlines or emergencies?

Who are the creditors?

You can also research what Debt is together using some of the recommended websites.

The idea is that you are supporting the individual to build coping strategies and a plan so they can avoid crisis situations in the future. This can be by increasing knowledge and access to advice services or with increasing their knowledge of the self-help information that’s available online.

What is advice?

Advice is tailored to the individual and takes all of the above information and expands on it.

If we take the above client;

Your client presents with an issue of having no money and receiving letters from creditors. They are finding this all very overwhelming, they can’t pay what is being requested and they don’t know what to do next.

A trained Citizens Advice adviser can complete a full benefit check for the client to look at maximising their income. They can also create a budget based on a client’s income and expenditure to see what affordable repayments could be made to the creditors.

They are not there to tell a client what to do but they will go through all available options and consequences with the client.

Similar to support/information, advice is there to increase a client’s access and knowledge to self help, and build effective strategies to manage situations in the future.



Do's and Don'ts