What is an advocate?
An advocate is a person who represents your views (speaks up for you) and helps you to have your say. An advocate is on your side. An advocate can help make sure the health and care professionals working with you know what your wishes and feelings are, and involve you in decision making.
Although someone like a friend or family member might sometimes advocate for you informally, this page is focused on professional Advocates. Professionals who are paid to act as an Advocate, as their job, are known as ‘Independent Advocates’. An Independent Advocate is separate from the rest of your life and so able to help you with health and care processes in a way that is impartial and objective.
You can read more about what advocacy is and what Independent Advocates can help with in this factsheet.
What does an Independent Advocate do?
An Independent Advocate can:
- Help you understand health and care processes. For example, an Independent Advocate could help you understand what to expect, and support you, if a safeguarding referral has been made about you, and is being investigated
- Help you participate in health and care processes. For example, an Independent Advocate could help you to be involved in your adult social care assessment
- Make sure your views are known. For example, if the adult social care support you have is being reviewed and might change, an Independent Advocate could help make sure decision makers know what impact any change might have on you
- Help you understand your rights. For example, an Independent Advocate can help you challenge the way you are being cared for under the Mental Health Act 1983 or Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Even if you can’t directly tell your Independent Advocate how you feel or what you want to say, they are trained to find ways of making sure you are at the centre of the health and care decision making that affects you.
How do I get an Independent Advocate?
Getting help from an Independent Advocate usually depends on whether you already have someone who can support you informally, such as a family member or a friend. Having informal support means having someone to advocate for you who is not already helping you in a professional capacity or on a paid basis (for example your GP or a care worker). On these pages, we will describe this help as ‘informal advocacy’, to make it clear that this is something different from having a professional, Independent Advocate.
Many people prefer informal advocacy help from a family member or friend. If you have someone in mind who you might like to act as your informal advocate, you can discuss this with the health/ care professionals working with you. Health/ care professionals must feel confident that any person helping you informally is suitable, willing and able to help you in this way, and will do what is best for you. If the professionals working with you don’t feel confident, they will talk to you about appointing an Independent Advocate for you.
If you don’t have anyone to help you informally, or you don’t have anyone that health/ care professionals can agree is suitable, there are different types of Independent Advocate that might help, depending on your situation. Sometimes the same Independent Advocate will be able to help you with more than one thing, across more than one type of advocacy.
Click on each of the types of Independent Advocate listed below, to find out how they might help you, if you have no one suitable to help you informally.
I’m not sure if I need an Independent Advocate, or if I do, which one I might need? What should I do?
You can contact the local independent advocacy provider, Cloverleaf, direct. You can contact Cloverleaf by:
Telephone: 0303 303 0413 (calls are charged at local rate from a landline or mobile number)
If you think you might need an Independent Advocate, discuss this with your case worker or other professional working with you, so they can think about how best to help you. Your worker or other professional will make a decision about whether an Independent Advocate can help you, taking into account your wishes and feelings.
If you don’t have a case worker or you’re not sure how best to contact professionals that you’re working with, contact the Single Point of Access (SPA) on 01472 256 256.
What sort of person might be best to help me informally?
An informal advocate should be someone that you feel comfortable with having to help you. They are usually a family member or friend. Someone who is paid to help you, such as a GP, care at home or supported living worker, cannot be your informal advocate.
An ‘appropriate person’ is the phrase that is sometimes used in law to mean someone that you choose to help you, and that health/ care professionals agree is suitable to help you.
Health/ care professionals must feel confident that anyone helping you informally is willing and able to speak up for you, and help you to take part in health and care processes such as an assessment or care plan. An informal advocate will need to be able to put you first – to make sure that it is your voice, your feelings, and your opinions that are heard, rather than their own.
Health/ care professionals might not agree that someone you’d like to choose is suitable to be your informal advocate. For example, professionals might be worried that the person won’t do what’s best for you, won’t be able to separate their own opinions and feelings from yours or make sure that your opinions and feelings are the centre of all discussions. Health/ care professionals also know that the system they work in can be very confusing. Someone might be willing to act as your informal advocate, but not understand enough about the health and care processes they’re trying to help you with, or not have the confidence to ask the questions about those processes that will make sure your voice is heard. There might also be practical difficulties for someone you’d like to act as your informal advocate, for example, they have a busy job which means they are not free often enough to help you, or they may just live too far away.
If health/ care professionals decide there is no one suitable to act for you informally and you need advocacy help, they will arrange an Independent Advocate for you.
I have a family member or friend who I think might help me informally. What should I do?
Talk to the professionals working with you about who you would like to help you. The starting point is that you can choose anyone you like to help you with health and care processes, but there are some limits.
Health/ care professionals have a duty to appoint an Independent Advocate for you in some circumstances. Where this duty applies, health/ care professionals must agree that any person who might act as your informal advocate is suitable, willing and able to help you. If professionals don’t agree, they will explain why they think it is important for you to have an Independent Advocate for support. You can still choose to include people who are important to you, even if they are not acting as your informal advocate. It can be a lot to ask of a family member or friend, to act as your informal advocate. If someone starts out in this role for you but changes their mind (or you change your mind about having them help you in this way), you may still be entitled to help from an Independent Advocate. You can learn more about how to get an Independent Advocate by clicking on How do I get an Independent Advocate?
If you start out with an Independent Advocate, but then decide you would rather have someone you know to act as your informal advocate, talk to the health/ care professionals working with you. Professionals will take into account your wishes and feelings, but in some circumstances, they might decide it’s important for you to have an Independent Advocate. The professionals working with you will explain why. You can still choose to include people who are important to you, even if they are not acting as your informal advocate.
I’ve been asked to act as an informal advocate. What do I need to know?
You must be:
- Willing to help the person is this way (helping in this way can only be with your agreement)
- Available often enough to help the person in this way (how often you need to help will depend on what help the person you’re acting for needs)
- Practically able to offer the help the person needs (depending on how the person you’re acting for is being helped, you might need to be physically near enough, or able to be near enough, to attend an assessment (for example) during working hours)
- Able to help the person to join in with the health and care processes that are relevant to them, such as a safeguarding investigation (this could mean asking questions for the person, or sharing information with them in a way that they are better able to understand)
- Able to put the person’s wishes and feelings across, rather than your own (this means trying to make sure the person’s voice is heard)
- Able to avoid any conflict of interests between what you want and what the person might want for themselves (this means putting the person first, even if you might disagree with them or have an opinion which is different from theirs).
Health/ care professionals have a duty to appoint an Independent Advocate for a person with needs, in some circumstances. Where this duty applies, health/ care professionals must agree that any person who might act as an informal advocate is suitable, willing and able to help. If professionals don’t agree, they will explain why. If the person with needs wants to include you they can, even if they are not acting as their informal advocate.
Sometimes Cloverleaf offers advocacy skills training to help people who may want to act as an informal advocate. Check the Cloverleaf website to see if there is anything available in your area: Cloverleaf Advocacy (cloverleaf-advocacy.co.uk)
Who provides advocacy help in North East Lincolnshire?
In North East Lincolnshire, the types of advocacy listed on this page are provided by Cloverleaf Advocacy. Together, the local Council and the local NHS (the Integrated Care Board or ICB) have a contract with Cloverleaf for advocacy services in North East Lincolnshire. There are other advocacy providers in other areas of the country, but in North East Lincolnshire, the Council and ICB have bought these services from Cloverleaf for the benefit of local people.
If you want to know more about who Cloverleaf are and what they do, visit their website: Cloverleaf Advocacy (cloverleaf-advocacy.co.uk) or telephone them on 0303 303 0413.
Cloverleaf can also help you if you would like information about advocacy in other formats, such as easy read.
Is there any special advocacy help for carers?
Yes. In North East Lincolnshire, carers aged 18+ who look after a family member, friend or neighbour can access any of the support provided by the Carers’ Support Service for free. This includes advocacy support for carers, in matters relating to health, social care, benefits and housing. Support may also be available to help carers talk to their employer if they feel their employer is not supportive of their caring role.
Often carers experience challenges that relate to the care and support of the person or people they care for. In those circumstances, depending on your individual situation, the Carers’ Support Service may work with you, alongside the advocacy service supporting those you care for, to ensure everyone’s needs are taken into account.
Carers must be registered with the Carers’ Support Service to get help. Carers can refer themselves to the Carers’ Support Service by
Telephoning: 01472 242277
Visiting: 1 Town Hall Square, Grimsby, DN31 1HY.
Referrals by professionals can be made in the same way, or via a referral form in the ‘Professionals’ menu of this website: www.carerssupportcentre.com.
Further useful links
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mental-capacity-act-code-of-practice (chapter 10 on advocacy)