“With unemployment standing at more than 1.5 million, inflation on the rise, energy prices soaring, and the government having scrapped the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, now is the worst possible time to be cutting face-to-face support.”
By Mark Seddon, Unite the Union.
Planned changes to how debt advice is funded and delivered would, if not stopped, lead to large-scale job losses and reduced support for people in debt. But debt advisers, like myself, are getting organised and are fighting back.
Acting as an arms-length body sponsored by the DWP, the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) is the biggest funder of free debt advice in England. MaPS outsources advice services to third-sector organisations but the contracts that are in place are due to expire at the end of March. A new tendering process is underway and, while precise details of the new contracts have not yet been made public, debt advisers are deeply alarmed by the information that has emerged.
Of particular concern are plans to slash funding of face-to-face debt advice by some 50-60% as MaPS attempts to move debt advice away from in-person appointments towards telephone support. These cuts would lead to mass redundancies as, in some parts of the country, the number of face-to-face debt advisers would be slashed by more than two-thirds.
In some cases, cuts to funding will force entire community services to close their doors for good. In Leeds, three organisations – two of which are based in one of the top ten most deprived areas in the country – will see their debt advice services wound-down due to the loss of MaPS funding. Furthermore, the new contracts include provisions for the ‘clawback’ of funding if organisations fail to hit onerous and unrealistic targets, creating funding uncertainties even for those services that do win contracts.
Of course, telephone and online support services have their place but, for many clients, they are inaccessible or simply too impersonal for such a sensitive issue as debt. A move away from in-person appointments will particularly hit people who, due to learning difficulties, disabilities, mental health issues or a range of other reasons, struggle to deal with paperwork, phone calls and the internet. With unemployment standing at more than 1.5 million, inflation on the rise, energy prices soaring, and the government having scrapped the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, now is the worst possible time to be cutting face-to-face support.
Frontline debt advisers have the experience and expertise to understand the importance of personalised face-to-face support and yet, in the build up to this tendering process, MaPS has made no effort to properly consult with us. We’re committed to providing quality debt advice but are already struggling under the pressure of existing MaPS targets. In fact, the Institute of Money Advisers has found that two-thirds of advisers regularly work over their contracted hours.
In response, debt advisers from across the country are organising ourselves to oppose these cuts. Workers in Unite have established the Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN), which is acting as an informal combine of debt advisers from across the country. We have three key demands of MaPS:
- Pause the commissioning process for a period of at least 12 months
- Consult with advisers and agencies to create a proposal for the future for debt advice that takes into account frontline advisers’ knowledge and a full assessment of the impact of coronavirus
- Provide immediate relief to overworked debt advisers by suspending some of the time-consuming bureaucracy that gets in the way of providing support to people in need.
UDAN members are calling on all MPs to back these demands and are encouraging everyone to sign our online petition. Please support our campaign and, together, we can save debt advice.
- Mark Seddon a debt adviser and member of Unite the Union
- Sign the petition calling for an Immediate Pause to the Money and Pension Service Recommissioning of Debt Advice here.
- Find out more about the Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) here.