Duncan* and Maria* were unable to read and write successfully and needed advocacy support to help them with several complaints to their local authority and NHS services.

Duncan and Maria are from an Irish Traveller background, due to their own cultural needs and wishes they were offered a female and male Advocate from Advocacy Focus.

Duncan was highly aware of his difficulty around reading and writing, so it became really important that our Advocate was able to build his trust when it came to supporting him with writing letters.

We established trust with Duncan through regular meetings and talking about his complaints, but we also took a genuine interest in himself and his own background and culture. Our Advocate was able to build up a genuine and supportive connection with Duncan, which meant that we were able to communicate very effectively on his behalf.

How we helped

Our Advocate would write letters as dictated by Duncan, and would then offer suggestions on how the message could be tailored to enable the best outcome. This was done sensitively with the need to recognise Duncan’s sense of self-worth – he still owned the letters, we were just there to support him to get them written.

We aimed to keep our meetings very relaxed and informal, and as near to a social setting as possible. This was important because people who are aware that their literacy causes them issues don’t want to be treated as someone who needs help. Our visits became very natural rather than simply appointments in the diary.

As the complaints progressed, Duncan was able to trust us more and instead of meeting in person, we soon began to talk on the phone and dictate letters over the phone, which was much more convenient for him. 

For Duncan, our Advocate had to become a support but was very sensitive about doing so, this was to ensure that Duncan was always taking the lead with his complaints, and to enable him to feel empowered by the service so that he can really get across his views and wishes.

For Duncan, our Advocate had to become a support but was very sensitive about doing so, this was to ensure that Duncan was always taking the lead with his complaints, and to enable him to feel empowered by the service so that he can really get across his views and wishes.

We supported Duncan and his wife Maria, right to the very end of their complaints which lasted almost 18 months. Through the whole process our Advocates would read their replies, type up new letters and support applications to the Ombudsman.

We maintained a unique relationship of both professional and supportive nature, meeting a need when it was needed and stepping back when the need wasn’t there. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the people we support