Talk Money Week: Proposal to halve key debt advice funding will cause advice deserts
- Monday 8 November 2021
Debt advice deserts will open up across England if moves to halve the funding for face-to-face services go ahead, Unite, the UK’s leading union is warning today (Monday 8 November).
The union’s warning coincides with the beginning of this year’s Talk Money Week.
The threat by the Money and Pension Advice Service (MaPS), which organises Money Advice Week, to halve face-to-face funding will mean redundancies for debt advice specialists and a much-reduced service for people in need of help, the union’s debt adviser members say.
According to Unite, many areas will see reduced access to debt advisers and some services will close altogether.
In Leeds, three out of four MaPS-funded debt agencies will no longer be able to provide debt advice after 31 March. According to internal projections by Citizens Advice meanwhile, in West Yorkshire 32 face-to-face adviser posts will be cut to 11 and in the East Riding and north Lincolnshire, 18.5 full-time equivalent posts will plummet to only four.
The debt advice specialists are concerned that moving to online consultations will mean people with complex debt problems will be left without the detailed advice and support they need to address spiralling debt.
Unite also says that MaPS’ plans are based on research conducted before the pandemic and do not take into account the huge changes since March 2020. Nearly three quarters of debt advisers say their cases are more complex now than before the pandemic. Many more people are juggling debt from rent arrears, loss of wages, increasing fuel costs and rising prices.
The MaPS services is directly funded by the government via the Department for Work and Pensions and also has significant input from the Treasury.
The union is calling on MaPs to halt the process while it commissions independent evidence and engages with frontline staff to find a way forward.
Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “Evidence seen by Unite shows that face-to-face MaPS-funded debt advice jobs will be reduced by more than 50 per cent from April 2022.
“This will mean devastation for this vital service, including redundancies for debt advisers and reduced services for people in need of help. Advice deserts will open up across England bringing real hardship to people who need someone to turn to.
“MaPS’s plans to shift from face-to-face advice towards call centres and webchat may work well for some people, but the most vulnerable people, and those with the most complex cases, can often only deal with their problems in person.
“We are saying to MaPS and the government that they must think again. The planned changes are based on out-of-date evidence which is not fit for these times. Our expert advisers report that the pandemic has made the cases they are dealing with so much more complicated.
“This process must be halted in order to engage frontline debt advisors in the future of this essential service.”
Debt advice clients have told Unite’s experts that face-to-face provision made all the difference to them:
‘Eddie’, Citizens Advice client assisted by a MaPS-funded debt adviser & Unite rep, West Midlands:
“I had bailiffs at my door demanding money for a court fine I knew nothing about. I tried to make a plan to pay them, but they wanted £200 immediately and another £100 per month afterwards. I only get carer's allowance as I look after my disabled wife.
“I was really worried about going to prison as the bailiff said that could happen if I didn't pay him.
“I got an appointment at my local Citizens Advice and spoke with a debt adviser, who made calls and found out what the fine was all about. I'm not good with letters or making phone calls, so to get someone to sit there and get to the bottom of the problem was really good. He even got the bailiffs called off, which was a massive relief to me as I was constantly worried about them coming back.
“I know I wouldn't have been able to do what the adviser did as he could look up numbers on his computer and then call people about the fine. Seeing someone face-to-face to help is a really big deal for me.”
Unnamed debt advice client at Mary Ward Legal Centre, London:
"My English is not so good and I prefer to explain things and show you my papers in your office. It's much better for me that way."
Unite Debt Advice Network set up a petition calling on MaPS to urgently:
Suspend the debt advice recommissioning process
Extend current funding arrangements for 12 months to allow for full independent research into the long-term demand for debt advice, and how best to meet this
Consult frontline debt advice workers via their union Unite on any proposed changes
Notes to editors
Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) is a new national organisation within Unite the Union
UDAN campaigns for improvements to jobs, pay and conditions of Unite debt adviser members, including improved service to debt advice clients
UDAN can be contacted for further information at: [email protected]
Bids for MaPS contracts closed on 15 October and successful bids are to be announced on 31 December. The funding available for 3 regional contracts (‘Lot 2’) which provide community-based face-to-face services has been cut.
For media enquires ONLY contact Unite communications officer Ryan Fletcher on 07849 090215.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Instagram: unitetheunion Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.