Members of Parliament (MPs) hold regular surgeries where constituents (people who live in their area) can go and visit them to raise issues or concerns. This guide offers some help to staff who are planning the surgeries.
Whilst most MPs schedule casework surgeries and meetings with constituents to discuss individual cases, the bulk of their responses will be drafted by their caseworker who will almost always deal with constituents’ local and personal concerns, and probably enquiries about national policy issues as well.
Most MP’s take at least one member of staff with them to their surgeries, specifically caseworkers. This is so that the caseworker can assist the MP in relaying the right information to the constituent, take notes of relevant issues and to make sure the constituent communicates their concerns to the caseworker who will then go on and make representations on their behalf to resolve the matter.
For security, many MPs no longer offer drop-in advice surgeries, although some may still operate them at local centres. Constituents should check with the MP’s office before turning up. Some MP’s also hold an appointment-only surgery at the Constituency Office. This is particularly useful for constituents who need papers photocopying or who require a lot of time to go through a complicated issue with a caseworker. However it is not always necessary for constituents to attend a surgery for the MP to look into their case. They can get in touch via telephone, email or post at any time and their case will be treated in the same manner as those who have attended a surgery appointment.
It is therefore crucial that caseworkers prepare some information on the kind of issues the MP can help with and information as to where to find further assistance.
Sometimes people go to constituency surgeries to talk about individual problems that they are having that they need their MP’s help with, for example if they are struggling to get the support they need from their Local Authority, the Home Office, health services or government departments. So, if they are having difficulties, they visit their MP to ask them if they can intervene on their behalf.
Due to Parliamentary protocol, Members of Parliament are only able to intervene on behalf of people living within their constituency. If people call the constituency office to enquire about surgeries, it is important to check they live in your constituency. The easiest way to do this is by putting their postcode into one of either writetothem.com or theyworkforyou.com websites. You can also do this on the day of the surgery and refer them to their own MP.
Referrals to other MPs:
As you may have people attending the surgery from other constituencies, it would be a good idea to have the contact details of neighbouring MPs to hand.
When scheduling a constituency surgery to discuss individual cases, caseworkers should prepare registration forms to include all relevant information regarding the constituents local or personal concern or national policies etc.
For drop-in surgeries, if you ask constituents to fill in the registration forms whilst they are waiting, you can check that everyone in attendance is your constituent, and ensure that people who are not your constituents don’t end up waiting an hour, only to be told they have to go somewhere else.
Referrals to other support & advice providers:
Every MP will try to be as helpful as they can but, since they have around a large number of constituents to look after and their Parliamentary duties to attend to, this will place limits on the amount of time which can be spent in the constituency. It is then important that they spend their time dealing with problems that relate to them, rather than diverting queries that should have been taken elsewhere.
Not-for-profit advice organisations play a significant role in providing free information and advice to the public on a wide range of issues including debt, housing, benefits, employment, family issues, asylum and immigration, discrimination and consumer problems. Caseworkers should therefore prepare printed copies of contact details for local support and advice providers for constituents to visit.
If the constituent’s problem is of a more general nature or they are uncertain where to go for advice, then their nearest Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to guide them.
Constituents often take a problem to their MP because they do not know who else could help them. MPs are very generous at giving help and advice and will usually have a local Councillor at their constituency surgeries to help those constituents whose problems are connected with the services provided by local authorities such as dustbins, or housing repairs. If you feel that your problem really concerns the council rather than central government, then you should contact your local council or councillor. It would be a good idea to have the name and contact information of the councillors on hand during the surgery.
Safety at Advice Surgeries
Whilst most constituents are polite and respectful, there have been instances where MPs and their staff have been threatened, injured and, tragically, killed whilst dealing with members of the public. Some of the people who come to see you may be upset, distressed, agitated, angry or aggressive. It is, therefore, vital that you take every possible safety precaution at your advice surgeries. Whilst you may have security measures installed at your constituency office, outside venues may not offer you the same protection.
You should get to know the local neighbourhood police, street wardens or other security staff where your hold your surgeries and ensure that they know in advance the dates and times of your advice surgeries.
Get to know the layout of the venue of your advice surgery. What possible escape routes are there? Are there panic buttons? Will there be a security guard or other staff working in the vicinity whilst your surgery is in progress? Ensure that the MP and any staff attending an advice surgery have an emergency plan, and review it with them. You could perhaps set up a key phrase to alert a staff member that you wish to call the Police.
You should never see constituents alone – there should always be at least two people present during meetings, not only so someone can take notes whilst the MP is listening to the constituent, but someone who is able to assist or call for help in the event of an incident.
Wear a lone worker device. If you do not have any, contact the Members’ Security Support Service and they will arrange for some to be sent to you.
In your meeting room, make sure that the MP and the staff member are nearest the door, in case you need to leave quickly and arrange the furniture so that it does not hamper your escape. If you can, place a desk or table between you and the constituent. An almost empty room is the best for a meeting – remove any items which could be weaponised or cause harm, such as a letter opener, heavy objects, or even hot drinks.
Never lock yourself in the room with the constituent and, if possible, leave the door open or ajar.
If, at any time, you feel unsafe, do not hesitate to leave the room and seek assistance.