What Makes a Service Empowering?


the Asylum Early Action Expert Panel

Refugee Action

There are a few key aspects of running a service that turn the experience of accessing that service from a disappointing and disempowering one, into an experience that empowers people. They are:


“Is the service accessible? If not accessible - how can I be helped?”

  • Are the facilities accessible for disabled people?
  • Location - can people get to it, is there public transport?
  • Opening hours - is the service available at times convenient for people with childcare responsibilities?


Is this a place I feel welcome? Is there:

  • Respect?
  • A human approach, showing empathy and interest in user’s needs?
  • A welcoming tone of voice?

A sense of equality 

Do I feel a sense of giving as well as receiving?

Engagement and Participation

Can people say: "As I was participating in the service, I was empowered at the same time”?

“If you are invited to engage and actively participate - you feel a sense of ownership, you have a stake in it.”

Organisations should encourage more activity and involvement beyond accessing a service. 

Clear Signposting

  • If you cannot meet someone's needs, do you actively signpost or refer to the service who can? 
  • Think holistically what else they might need and signpost to these organisations, don’t wait for them to come with that need as they might not know it is a possibility  

Setting clear Expectations 

Is it clear when people arrive, what you can help with, and what you can’t?

  • Arriving at a service only to be told they can’t help with your problem, you’ve come on the wrong day or you are not eligible can be disappointing and disempowering. You can lose hope and feel like you are just knocking on closed doors. 
  • Organisations should provide accurate and up to date information about what is on offer, who is eligible and how to access support. 


Have you considered all the possible language and communication needs?

If people can’t communicate their needs or understand the advice being given they will feel disempowered. Organisations should try to meet language needs as far as possible so that people can express themselves and understand the vital information they need. 


Do people feel listened to?

If you feel listened to you gain more confidence to ask the questions you want to ask and to build that trust.


Are you creating a space that caters to different individuals’ needs?

  • Creating a space which caters to different individuals’ needs and enables them to access and participate equally. I.e women may need women-only sessions or childcare facilities. 
  • Creating an environment of trust - where people feel they can open us and provide the information needed to benefit from support. 

Helping people to understand their situation 

Are you providing information and sharing knowledge that helps people understand their situation?

  • Providing information and sharing knowledge so people can understand their situation, why their problem has arisen, what their options are and what steps will need to be taken. 
  • Information can be overwhelming, so it needs to be broken up into manageable chunks depending on what they need and when
  • The format of information is important, it should be easy to understand, translated and physical so that they can refer back to it. 

Help people to see their role in solving their problems

Are you helping people easily see what they, themselves, can do to help their situation?

  • Related to signposting, having an awareness of your options and where to go for different support, the roles of different people, organisations and their remits is empowering 
  • Assessing an individual's capacities and establishing what they are able to do themselves.
  • Support them to help themselves. I.e filling in a hc1 form themselves, with support. Next time they will be able to fill it in themselves. Be open to questions.
  • Providing workshops/trainings on frequently requested topics to embed this approach long term.
“I had an awful experience with my first lawyer. The attitude was, she’s the expert - I’m the client. She didn’t explain anything about the process or what I could do. I had a totally different experience with another lawyer - it was much more empowering. Together we discussed and she explained what I could do to actively work on my case and understand my role as well as her’s”. 


Have you thought about how your approach will work for the long term?

  • How can empowerment be embedded within an organisation’ approach for the long term? 
  • Is it part of your staff and volunteer training?
  • Is it a key part of your organisation’s strategy?