I am looking for a phrase to replace the term "Service user". There are two different contexts.

  1. Someone receiving services from a mental health trust.
  2. Someone who received services in the past, or who is receiving services now, or who will be using services in the near future, and who is offering their expertise to help develop services.

Here are some words, and the problems that have been mentioned.

For 1:

"Patient" - A patient receives medical services. These people receive more than just medical services; they get vocational services and social care and etc.

"Service user" - Some people (a few people with drug and alcohol problems for example) do not like the word "user".

"Client" - People detained against their will under section of the Mental Health Act say they don't feel like clients.

At the moment the term used is "service user". Only a small number of people dislike the word, but their dislike is very strong, so an alternative would be good.

For 2: We need a word that highlights the new role; a word that avoids "pigeon holing" people. We'd really like a phrase that puts people on a more equal footing with their employed colleagues.

"Service user" - these people might not be service users any more. They are moving forward with their lives, and want to define a more positive role for themselves. Also we'd like to emphasise the expertise that these people bring.

"Expert by lived experience" - It's unwieldy. Many people dislike the "lived experience" bit. A few people have said that they do not feel like experts.

"Service reporter" - sometimes these people are not reporting their experiences. They're just using their experience to help. For example, as part of an interview panel.

"Service consultant" - consultant is problematic in the setting of a hospital. There are actual medical consultants (US equivalent: "Attending Physician"). A small number of people are uncomfortable with the word "consultant". They say it has negative connotations; they say it makes them think of someone getting paid a lot of money for providing little value.

I welcome all suggestions. They don't have to be in use anywhere in the world. You can create brand new terms. I'm happy to hear what terms are used in other places too.

7 Answers 7


Participant might work. I'd leave off the "service" adjective if you use your terms mostly in contexts where it's understood.


For #1, how about something like "service recipient"?

For #2, would the somewhat generic phrase "subject matter expert" fit? The "subject matter" in this case, is the services they have received and will consult on. While they might not fee like "experts", they might still have enough experience and expertise to give very good (perhaps even "expert" level) advice, so it still might be OK.

Another term for #2: "experiential advisor", since they are providing advise based on their own experience. And it does not include "expert" or "consultant".

  1. Service beneficiary would not get any objections in my opinion. You can also use it with the related term Service benefactor.


For the second, Service Volunteer sounds right. It does not have any professional/monetary implications and does not emphasize the expertise in the subject.

  • Added an answer.
    – Srijan
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 22:01

I liked (and voted for) @FrustratedWithForms' answer for #1 (Service recipient).

For #2, I offer for your consideration:

Experience sharers

Experience volunteers

Experience mentors

Experience coaches

Experts through experience (if you can live with the term experts)

Service associates

Service partners

(I know it's way too informal for your use, but I wish you could use Been-there-done-that-ers.)


Instead of "service recipient" (which was the given option that I most liked), how about the somewhat simpler "service receiver"?


I am in the social care field and also find "service user" as a distant term with no warmth or relationship added. Although "client" is old fashioned it is the term I find myself using most often because I just don't have a satisfactory replacement.


My son lives in a carehome and the staff and social care always refer to him as a service user which is not nice. I now refer to him and the other people there as residents. Far more respectful.

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