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Where clients come from

Clients come from all over the place, including:

referrals
word of mouth
advertising
service directories.

Mistakes in referral are easily made. For example, financial counsellors regularly get referrals from people seeking financial advice or financial planning when they actually offer financial counselling. There is a considerable distinction here. Firstly, those who seek advice or planning often have money to invest whereas as those who seek counselling do not.

Inappropriate referrals are problematic for a number of reasons:

the client cannot obtain the services they seek, want or need
the clientís expectations cannot be met
the client may be angry about the referral roundabout
the client may make a complaint
the referral is wasteful of the organisationís time and resources.

For all of these reasons, it is important to have a referral policy. At its simplest a referral policy includes the following points:

what types of services are offered?
what is the extent of those services?
what services are not offered?
whether the services are targeted at a particular group (e.g. a particular group within victims of crime is women who are victims of domestic violence)
the requirements of any referral (e.g. does it need to be in writing or by telephone? what information needs to be included?)
The cost of receiving a service

If an organisation is receiving large numbers of inappropriate referrals, it may be wise to keep records on these referrals so action can be taken to remedy the problem. Policies on a range of issues that make clear to prospective clients and referring agencies what services are offered and what they can expect from your organisation may include but are not limited to:

General information such as location, contact details, business hours etc
Client Referral policy
Casework guidelines
Fees and charges guidelines
Grievance and dispute policies
Any codes of conduct or ethics that are relevant.

It's worth considering that clients donít always come because they want assistance. They may be referred because they need assistance despite their unwillingeness to get help. They may be subject of a mandatory referral from the Courts or another agency. Clients who access Job Network agencies may do so because they are required to do so in order to continue to receive social security payments. Clients who access counselling services sometimes do so because it has been ordered by a judge.

Some clients who do self-refer may not have a commitment to the service and may see accessing the service as a means to an end. For example, clients within the family law system sometimes access mediation services as a step in the process simply because they have to show they have taken that dispute resolution step.