We need to talk about MaPS’ debt advice funding (again)

As we approach MaPS Talk Money week, Amy Taylor, chair of Greater Manchester Money Advice Group and We Are Debt Advisers talks money…

On 4th October 2022 the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) announced the final tranche of contract awards in respect of its rather long-winded and troublesome procurement of debt advice services. The latest announcement encompassed its 3 (three!) national debt advice contracts, a business debtline and 2 ‘administration of debt relief orders’ hubs. This followed the announcement on 29th September 2022 of 26-month grants to fund community-based debt advice services. (Read the full MaPS’ announcement here.)

MaPS stated that:

Once the new contracts and the grants are live, MaPS will be investing £76m per year into debt advice services. This is an 80% increase compared with 2019.

I’m old enough to remember when MaPS announced the £77m funding pot back in May 2021, so what happened to that £1million?

Based on the stated 80% increase, simple maths means that pre-pandemic funding of debt advice in England was £42.2m per annum right?

***

Let’s go back to December 2017 and the Money Advice Service (MaPS’ predecessor). In its publication, A strategic approach to debt advice commissioning 2018–2023’, MAS stated that ‘around £45m from the FCA levy’ was used to fund ‘around 65%’ of all face-to-face debt advice and ‘significant amounts’ of telephone and digital advice across the UK. It further stated that ‘at least £150m a year goes towards funding free-to-client debt advicewhich MAS described as funding from local authorities, trusts, devolved governments, ‘FairShare’ (£50m a year based on £450m being repaid via debt management plans (DMPs)) and debtors themselves via commercial-sector DMPs.

It’s all guesswork, and in his Independent Review of the Funding of Debt Advice [in the UK], published in 2019, Peter Wyman suggests:

…hard data are hard to come by, but a reasonable estimate of the total cost of debt advice provided in 2016/17 is in the region of £200m.

When looking at MAS’ estimate of funding levels — either MAS have underestimated, or Mr Wyman has overestimated. Regardless of actual data or the cited ‘limited amount of hard evidence’, it came as no surprise that Mr Wyman’s recommendations included ways to:

improve the efficiency of supply by reducing duplication and encouraging wherever possible greater use of technology and the lowest cost delivery channel.

***

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the organisation responsible for collecting levies to provide MAS/MaPS with money to fund debt advice and, luckily, has less hazy figures for us to peruse — in fact, we can track them annually.

  • 2016/17 (9.2) — The total budget for MAS debt advice (UK) in 2016/17 is £45m
  • 2017/18 (9.15)— The total budget for MAS debt advice (UK) in 2017/18 is £48m
  • 2018/19 (8.13 )— The total budget for MAS debt advice (UK) in 2018/19 is £56.3m (includes additional £3m to set up MaPS)
  • 2019/20 (7.8) — The total budget for delivering the MaPS debt advice function (England only) for 2019/20 is £53.3m (This, you might argue, is the pre-pandemic figure which should be used in regard to the recent funding announcement…read on.)
  • 2020/21 (9.5 & 9.10) — The proposed budget for delivering the MaPS debt advice function in England is £64.6m, however the final budget is £63.2m. Now, this is the figure I would use; the ‘business as usual’ pot of money for debt advice.
  • An additional £37.8m of funding was then made available (£20.6 million from Government, £14.2 million through a one-off increase to the debt advice levy and a further £3 million contribution from MaPS.) The total budget for delivering the MaPS debt advice function (England only) for 2020/21 is £101m.
  • 2021/22 (7.8) — The proposed budget for delivering the MaPS debt advice function is £94.6m, however the final budget is £85.3m.
  • It is interesting to note that the ‘total funding envelope’ cited by MaPS in their early commissioning slides from May 2021 is £47.2m. A difference of £38.2m to the FCA levy and a serious cut to the 2020/21 ‘business as usual’ funding of £63.2m.
From ‘Commissioning Debt Advice in England — Market Engagement Webinar’ slide deck
  • 2022/23 (7.3) — The proposed budget for delivering the MaPS debt advice function is £91.4m, however the final budget is £80.7m
Blue represents ‘business as usual’ funding and orange represents ‘increased debt advice capacity’ (IDAC funding during the outbreak of Covid

Now let’s turn to the MaPS Corporate Plan for 2021/22 and try to put the above into context. The below pie chart demonstrates the total budget for MaPS including its pensions and money advice functions.

MaPS 2021/22 Corporate Plan indicates a budget of £94.6million for debt advice

MaPS provides a figure of £94.6m for provision of debt advice. However, thanks to the FCA publications above, we know it didn’t receive £94.6m, but £85.3m. MaPS also didn’t receive anything like the total of £157.4m published in its Corporate Plan, of which £147.6m was ring-fenced for ‘resource spending’. The actual figure confirmed by the FCA is £127.5m; they said:

We have adjusted these to reflect underspends, notified to us by the DWP, on the amounts collected under last year’s money guidance, pensions guidance and debt advice levies.

Let’s go back to that 80% increase, cited at the beginning. The 2020/21 debt advice funding pot was £63.2m – the increase to £76m in 2023/24 is 20% at best.

If we err on the side of generosity and plum for the 2019/20 figure of £53.3m then the £76m represents an increase of 42%. It’s better, but it’s a long way off 80%.

Even we go along with the £47.2m funding ‘envelope’, it’s a 60% increase. So where on earth does 80% come from?

Current funding of community advice until the end of January 2023 is £33.6m — this leaves £47.1m funding remote advice (contact centres). We can say with some confidence that the community grants for February 2023 (£30m) represent a definite 10% cut to community funding.

Some would argue (and I’m one of them) that the cost of living crisis, the highest rates of inflation for 40 yearspersonal indebtedness soaring and mortgage rates looking like this:

…require the same additional funding to debt advice that the pandemic warranted, if not more. This would help community organisations balance their own tightened budgets, recruit the staff they need to meet increased demand, continue the training of staff taken on in 2020 and, maybe, even give their existing staff a decent payrise.

***

Finally, there remains the problem of the apportionment of the budget in favour of remote advice. Mr Wyman (p19, point 33) concluded it was cheaper to give debt advice ‘online’ (£9 — per what?? Hour? Contact?), or by telephone (£70 per ??) than in person: a whopping £160 per….something. Well, of course it is! Because you are doing so much less for the people who need the help. And if each person who needed that in depth advice, comes away from these remote experiences with a 6-inch thick info-pack on every debt solution known to mankind, the risk is that the advice won’t help them at all — and we’ll never know.

Unfortunately, MaPS were convinced by the cheaper = more = value for money argument, and the debt advice ‘sector’ is infested with impressive but utterly meaningless statistics. 500 calls ‘dealt with’ is not the same as 500 people achieving a useful outcome. 500 people advised to claim a benefit is not the same as 500 people actually claiming and receiving that benefit.

I’m very wary of organisations who suggest that they ‘empower’ clients by sharing information from a website/benefit calculator/budgeting tool, when what the client needs is a expert professional to sit with them, read their letters, give them time, advise them and, yes, empower them with knowledge, and a plan. True empowerment is a thing you can witness in advice.

Professional advisers don’t foist useless in-depth advice on people who don’t need it either. We are completely able to offer light touch advice or signpost information if that’s what the client needs.

We can also do remote advice — we use telephones and webchat and video-conferencing. Some of us even use WhatsApp!

***

This whole procurement exercise has been flawed from the start. We Are Debt Advisers wanted the whole thing scrapped, with proper consultation and a better understanding by MaPS of what debt advice is before it gave £46m of precious funding to remote services, especially when one of the remote service providers is a commercial, profit-making entity with a not exactly glowing reputation. That opportunity is now gone, but it is to be hoped that MaPS’ promise to engage with frontline advisers is a sincere one, and that we can yet turn this ship around.

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UDAN welcomes extended MaPS funding for community-based debt advice

On 29 September, the Money & Pensions Service (MaPS) announced an extension of funding for community-based debt advice services.

Background

In 2021, MaPS launched a recommissioning process which would have seen cuts of 50% or more in community-based face-to-face debt advice, with funding moving towards telephone and online services. These work for some people, but are simply inaccessible for many people our members support.

Following a campaign led by UDAN and We Are Debt Advisers (WADA), the recommissioning process was halted, saving hundreds of debt advice jobs. As a short-term measure, MaPS extended the existing funding for community-based services. This had been due to end on 31 March 2022, but a further 10 months of funding was announced, securing jobs and services until 31 January 2023.

This was good news for our members, many of whom were preparing for redundancy. As WADA reported in December 2021, many debt advisers were expecting to lose their jobs and seeking other employment. Sadly, many experienced advisers left the sector at this time, and recruitment into the resulting fixed-term vacancies became very difficult.

MaPS announced this would be a ‘test and learn’ period, where future services would be shaped by engagement with debt advice providers and advisers. There have been some meetings since, including between UDAN and MaPS to discuss what our members and clients need.

Extension of funding

On 29 September, MaPS announced the end date for the current funding of community-based services is to be extended from 31 January 2023 to 31 March 2025.

This means our members working in MaPS-funded services have job security for a further two years.

This funding was a crucial source of income for many small services, many of which do brilliant work, rooted in their local communities. Some services had been clear in 2021 that ending this funding would mean their entire service would be at risk. This week’s announcement secures these services for an extra two years.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, these services will be needed more than ever. The extended funding is also great news for people in debt crisis, who will continue to have access to debt advice experts in their communities.

What’s next?

We welcome the extended funding for all the reasons above, but there is still much work to be done. We are pleased to see that MaPS has committed to proper consultation through a new ‘Debt Adviser Panel’. How this panel is set up and operated will be of key importance – it must be the genuine voice of frontline debt advisers. Critically, MaPS must act on the findings to make permanent improvements.

We are pleased to hear that MaPS is moving away from numeric targets to a focus on outcomes – one of UDAN’s initial demands.

With medium-term job security assured, we now need to see action on:

  • Improved pay in debt advice workplaces, including a clear progression path from trainee to experienced adviser with accompanying pay increases
  • Long-term security for jobs and funding, not wasteful and destabilising competitive tender processes every few years
  • Sufficient staffing to meet demand, to relieve our members of unmanageable workloads and unpaid overtime
  • Better practical support for debt advisers, such as free access to credit reports and both translation and interpreting services

MaPS is the sector’s largest funder, and therefore has a central role in setting pay and conditions. These improvements for MaPS-funded advisers would encourage other providers to improve their pay and conditions.

Unite Debt Advice Network 2022 debt advice pay and hours survey

In July, Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) found that a significant number of debt advisers are not expecting a pay increase this year.

UDAN has now launched a comprehensive survey of pay and working hours in debt advice workplaces.

This builds on the findings in the IMA’s 2019 Salaries in the debt advice sector report, and we are looking in more detail at working hours, other remuneration, how pay awards are decided, and inequalities in pay.

This survey is aimed at everyone working in a free-to-client debt advice service in the UK, and we want to hear from union members and non-members to get the fullest possible picture.

The survey is anonymous and does not ask for any information which could identify you or your employer.

You can access the survey at https://tinyurl.com/UDAN-survey-2022

Please share this link with your colleagues and encourage them to complete it.

The survey will close on 30th September, and we will publish the full findings in a report later in the year.

UDAN finds widespread pay freezes in debt advice workplaces

Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) conducted a short survey this week to find out if debt advisers are expecting a pay rise this year, and if this will meet inflation. We asked 40 debt advisers and found that:

  • 32.5% had not received, and were not expecting to receive, a pay rise at all this year
  • 57.5% were to receive a pay rise this year

Of those receiving a pay rise, the mean was 3.16% (min 1.5%, max 7%, median 3%)

The mean pay increase this year across all the whole sample was 2.02% (median 2%)

This falls far short of current inflation (7.9% CPIH or 13.4% RPI in May 2022[1])

This represents a substantial real-terms pay cut for our members at a time when pressure on our services is growing rapidly.

UDAN will be conducting further research into debt adviser pay, and a detailed survey of members and non-members will be sent out in the coming weeks. 


[1] CPIH: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices; RPI: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/timeseries/czbi

Debt advisers… are you getting a cost of living increase?

Wages in debt advice have stagnated for years, and there’s a wide feeling among advisers that our pay doesn’t reflect the work we do or the skills we bring to our jobs.

As living costs rocket upwards, we’re concerned that pay awards in debt advice are falling far short of inflation – another real-terms pay cut.

We need you help to gather data on this, so please complete this short anonymous survey and share it with your colleagues.

We’ll publish the results soon.

New MaPS contract targets remain unachievable unless we work for free

Details are coming through about the revised Money & Pensions Service contracts from 1st April 2022 to 31st January 2023, and it’s not good.

News from our members in local Citizens Advice offices says targets have been set at 277 clients per FTE. This is only 2% lower than last year, despite all the evidence that the previous annual targets were impossible. The debt advice peer assessment (DAPA) quality regime is thankfully gone, but so far there is no sign of concessions on the waste-of-time 30+ page confirmation of advice (COA) letters.

We are awaiting updates on the situation from workers in other MaPS-funded agencies.

Incredibly, we’re hearing that some local Citizens Advice are insisting advisers must take on 10 new cases per week. But meeting the 277 target, including holidays, would mean around 8 a week, so why 10? And advisers are being told they need to make up missed numbers if they’re off sick – which a lot of them will be with the stress this is going to cause.

IMA research last October found MaPS-funded local CA advisers needed 5h 15m per new client for advice, notes and COA letter.  Multiplied by 10 cases, that’s over 52 hours a week, and that’s before any ongoing casework. The same IMA research showed MaPS-funded debt advisers were already working an average of 6 hours a week unpaid overtime.

This target is impossible, especially as we are faced with increasingly complex cases and more clients who simply cannot afford the basics of life.

This puts advisers in a position of:

a) rushing through cases to hit targets and providing a poor service,

b) working 15+ hours a week for free to keep up with workloads, or

c) sticking to what they can manage in their contracted hours and getting penalised by employers.

This completely flies in the face of HSE guidance on workplace stress: “the organisation provides employees with adequate and achievable demands in relation to the agreed hours of work”. We remind these employers that they have a legal duty to protect employees from stress, do a risk assessment and act on it.

We’ve lost so many good debt advisers since this recommissioning mess started. Research in December found that 29% of debt advisers had left, or were in the process of leaving, their jobs. More are now talking about leaving after the announcement of these targets, just at a point when skilled advisers will be needed more than ever.

We’re not working for free to keep up with unachievable targets, and if employers and lead organisations persist with this, our members will respond appropriately.

#SaveDebtAdvice #MaPSMustChange

Unite Debt Advice Network responds to the Money & Pensions Service report ‘Access to debt advice during Covid-19’

Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) welcomes the publication of the Money & Pensions Service (MaPS) research into debt advice service provision during the pandemic.

This recognises some of the difficulties our members faced as their services had to adjust overnight to remote working from March 2020.

The disruption caused by MaPS failed recommissioning process in late 2021 has resulted in experienced advisers leaving the sector and services temporarily grinding to a halt. Debt advice services need to rebuild and expand urgently as we enter the worst financial crisis in a generation, and our members’ skills and expertise will be needed now more than ever.

Debt advice services must be shaped by the people who understand the job – the dedicated advisers who spend every working day doing the job. Reaching those in the most need of help means strong, well-funded services rooted in local communities. Keeping those services running means giving debt advice workers long-term secure contracts, decent pay and conditions, manageable workloads and professional respect.

This week, Unite Debt Advice Network published a joint statement with Advice UK and grassroots campaigners We Are Debt Advisers, calling on MaPS to engage with frontline debt advice workers, trade unions and other sector stakeholders to ensure this happens.

We remain concerned that the experiences and opinions of all debt advice clients have not been heard, and we urge MaPS to conduct further research with those who have been excluded from services by the reduced availability of face-to-face provision.

The future of debt advice is mixed delivery, and clients must be able to contact services in a way that works for them – including safe face-to-face services if they want it. Centralising debt advice into remote call centres and webchat must not be at the expense of community-based services which support the most vulnerable clients with local expertise and connections. The future of debt advice must place these local services at the centre, co-commissioning on a local basis with councils, health services and the wider voluntary sector.  

We welcome MaPS recent engagement with UDAN, and we will continue to represent the voices of our members in shaping the future of debt advice.   

Building a debt advice sector which is fit to cope with the coming crisis is only possible if the experience and expertise of frontline debt advice workers is listened to, and acted on.

The cost of living crisis

As we face the worst financial crisis in a generation, a UDAN member gives the view from the frontline of debt advice.

There has been a lot in the news recently about the cost of living crisis that is impacting on many thousands of people currently in the UK. Against the backdrop of Brexit, the Coronavirus Pandemic, wage stagnation, the war in Ukraine and increasing inflation. Consumer prices, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), were 5.5% higher in January 2022 than a year before. A particularly important driver of inflation is energy prices, with household energy tariffs increasing and petrol costs going up. Things are going to get worse for a significant number of people in the country in the coming weeks. Particularly with increased energy costs and incomes being squeezed further from next month.

A recent report by the Resolution Foundation[1] estimates an increase of inflation to 8% across 2022/23. And part of the impact on living standards can be directly attributed to the policy of increasing benefits with a lagged measure of inflation: in 2022-23, this will cut the real value of the income provided by the benefits system by £10 billion.

For advisers and caseworkers employed at the frontline in the Money Advice sector we expect to see a massive increase in demand for our already stretched services. A cornerstone of how we deliver advice to clients is in face-to-face (F2F) community-based settings. And having a presence in locations across the country is vital for sections of the community who cannot access digital platforms to help resolve their issues. Whether it be due to mental health, language, literacy problems or the fact, the client just feels more comfortable talking to another person who can assuage their fears and provide appropriate options in person. Advisers on the ground know their client base, they also have invaluable contacts to local organisations, such as enforcement team within local council tax offices, what foodbanks operate locally and when. This wealth of local provision helps protect some of the most vulnerable in society on a daily basis. And in many cases mitigates situations escalating for clients, and causing further anguish and stress.

The reality for many will be to ‘eat or heat’ as their incomes become ever more stretched, caught between the anvil of the cost of living crisis and the hammer of austerity. And let’s be clear, austerity was never an economic inevitability, it was a political choice. The proliferation of foodbanks across the country has become normalised, and people accessing them to be able to feed themselves and their families is now an accepted everyday occurrence. All this, in a G7 country – an advanced economy, where some in society are advancing financially while significant proportions of the population have been treading water, and will now be sinking at faster rate than ever before. Billionaires use space travel as their latest vanity projects, while vulnerable people skip meals and impinge on their thermal comfort in an attempt to make ends meets.

The Chancellor’s spring statement this week, has done nothing more than offer a sticking plaster to a battlefield wound. It will still be everyday people who bear the biggest burden of the current cost of living crisis. The wealth inequality within our country grows further with every passing year, UDAN members witness this on a daily basis as they help people to navigate their debt problems. Real incomes are going to be squeezed more and more, and the Government should have taken the necessary steps to alleviate the financial pressures people are faced with to ameliorate the impending catastrophe while there was the opportunity to do so.


[1] https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/the-living-standards-outlook-2022/

MaPS MUST ENGAGE WITH DEBT ADVISERS: UDAN joins forces with Advice UK and We Are Debt Advisers in a new campaign

Today, Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) calls on the Money & Pensions Service (MaPS) to properly engage with frontline debt advice workers.

UDAN has joined forces with Advice UK and We Are Debt Advisers, and today publishes a list of campaign demands aimed at building a debt advice sector which is sustainable, provides high-quality advice to everyone who needs it, and treats workers fairly.

This follows our successful campaign in December to halt the devastating 50% cuts to community-based services which MaPS tried to impose from this April.

The disruption caused by MaPS failed recommissioning process last year has resulted in experienced advisers leaving the sector and services temporarily grinding to a halt. Debt advice needs to rebuild quickly as we face the worst financial crisis in a generation, and we will be needed now more than ever.

Debt advice services must be shaped by the people who understand the job – the dedicated advisers who spend every working day doing the job. We know that reaching those in the most need of help means strong, well-funded services rooted in local communities. Keeping those services running means giving debt advice workers long-term secure contracts, decent pay and conditions, manageable workloads and professional respect.

We are ready to negotiate. MaPS, the ball is in your court.

We invite other debt advice organisations and trade unions to join our campaign.

Contact us for further details

Read the campaign demands

Join Unite

UDAN statement on the cancellation of service cuts and next steps required from the Money & Pensions Service

Unite Debt Advice Network (UDAN) welcomes the Money & Pensions Service (MaPS) announcement on 17 December that it is suspending the proposed Lot 2 regional contracts.

This follows a campaign by organised debt advice workers which has rapidly gained the support of MPs and debt advice bodies including Advice UK, Institute of Money Advisers and Money & Mental Health Policy Institute.

MaPS has stated that:

The three national contracts, the three DRO hubs and the business debt advice contracts start dates have moved from 1 April to 1 July 2022 “to ensure there is adequate time for mobilisation”

Organisations currently funded to provide face-to-face advice will be offered a three-month extension (i.e. to end of June 2022), with the “intention” to put in place grant funding “for a minimum” of 12 months (i.e. to end of June 2023 at least)

This leaves major questions over the funding of face-to-face services until June 2023. If the recommissioned contracts total £77m in value, and the other Lots proceed as planned, this would not leave enough funds to maintain community-based face-to-face services at their current level.    

This means either a) new funding will need to be sourced to maintain regional services at their current level, or b) the extension for Lot 2 regional contracts will be funded at a lower level.

Furthermore, an offer to extend funding by only 15 months does not provide the certainty for organisations required to retain staff and plan services effectively.

It is vital that funding for community based, face-to-face debt advice continues for the next 15 months at its current level whilst appropriate consultations are undertaken to establish what is needed longer term. It is essential that MaPS spell out immediately what funding will be provided in the longer term.

The damage already done

The uncertainty created by the recommissioning process has already caused chaos in debt advice. Services have been ‘winding down’ in anticipation of funding stopping at the end of March, reducing access to services for vulnerable clients.

3 in 10 MaPS-funded debt advisers have now left or are in the process of leaving their roles due to the risk of redundancy and the intolerable conditions they have worked under in recent years (source, p.8). 

More than 90% of debt advisers say their workload has resulted in stress and mental health problems, and MaPS-funded advisers report much greater problems with their workload (source, pp.15-16 & p.20).

For community-based services, it will take time and money to rebuild from the damage MaPS has already inflicted, and the experience of those who have left – some with more than 20 years in the field – is gone forever.

Listen to frontline expertise

As our campaign has grown, it has become clear that MaPS has not consulted key stakeholders, including local authorities, other voluntary sector services, non-MaPS funded debt advice providers, debt advice clients, and of course debt advisers. It is not sufficient to consult only with lead organisations; to get the full picture and provide a truly effective service, all stakeholders need to be given a seat at the consultation table.  

It has also become clear that MaPS either did not conduct, or is unwilling to release, an Equalities Impact Assessment. Given the disproportionate impact of reduced face-to-face provision on low-income communities, vulnerable people and those with protected characteristics, this is a serious concern.

The MaPS statement says:

“Over the coming months, we intend to work closely with debt advice clients, advice organisations and other stakeholders to identify the best ways to deliver locally based services”

“The amended timeline will enable MaPS … to collaborate with the debt advice sector to inform and shape regionally based provision that delivers the best outcome for clients”

The most important stakeholders in shaping the future of debt advice are those who do the work. Frontline debt advisers, working at a community level with clients, know and understand how to provide effective debt advice, and must have a seat at the table in all future discussions. UDAN will facilitate this. 

Quality monitoring

MaPS has announced a procurement process to replace the Debt Advice Peer Assessment (DAPA) scheme.

Our members are absolutely clear that DAPA has driven up workloads, crushed adviser morale, and overloaded and confused clients. Advisers spend more than 50% of their time writing case notes or letters (source, p.19), often over 50 pages long to meet the draconian demands set by DAPA. This is not for the benefit of clients who will not read these. It is for the sole purpose of passing DAPA. This is time that could be used supporting our clients.

DAPA must be scrapped with immediate effect.  Agencies providing debt advice under MaPS funding already have robust quality assurance systems in place in the form of the AQS or equivalent schemes.  When there is clearly not enough money in the pot to adequately fund community-based debt advice, it seems reckless to be paying so much money to a commercial company to review our cases, when it is apparent that their goal is not to improve debt advice but to continue to receive money from MaPS.

Trainees

The ‘increasing capacity’ funding which employed 550 trainee debt advisers in late 2020 is to be extended to 30 June 2022 “with the potential for a limited extension beyond that”.

This gives no long-term certainty for these trainees, many of whom have been in debt advice for over a year and are effectively qualified advisers.  MaPS need to build in proper career progression for this cohort, including an immediate salary increase which reflects the skill and expertise they have acquired.  Failure to do so will result in these new advisers leaving the sector. 

If funding for trainees ends as demand for advice is increasing, we lose the skills acquired and will struggle to meet the need for debt advice in the future. 

Regional structure

The proposed division of England into three ‘mega-regions’ moves decision-making further away from the local services that understand their communities best. Local authorities are key stakeholders in debt advice commissioning and are often major funders, yet have not been consulted in the recommissioning.

Centralising debt advice will result in a top heavy, bureaucratic system and onerous reporting requirements. Vulnerable clients do not want to access debt advice via a call centre.  The revised proposals must take the opposite approach and move decision-making closer to communities.  Local organisations already have established and effective links with the communities they serve and are best placed to address their needs. 

Targets

MaPS CEO Caroline Siarkiewicz has already confirmed to debt advisers that targets based on client numbers were to be scrapped in the recommissioned contracts (source from 1:30). This must now happen immediately in order to provide a service which is client-focused and genuinely allows advisers to address the presenting issue from start to finish.  The focus from now on must be on outcomes, rather than volumes.  

Our demands

Following the abandonment of the disastrous Lot 2 regional contracts, UDAN members want to work with MaPS to safeguard jobs, pay and conditions in the debt advice sector, and ensure that high-quality community-based face-to-face debt advice is available for all who need it in future.

We call on MaPS to immediately do the following:

  • Cancel the DAPA scheme
  • End numeric targets for debt advisers
  • Publish all Equalities Impact Assessments conducted as part of the recommissioning process
  • Confirm funding will continue at the current level at a minimum for the 15 months from April 2022
  • Launch a consultation with frontline debt advisers on what services are needed to replace the abandoned Lot 2 regional contracts, including acceptable pay, progression and conditions for workers