Thanks to another anonymous debt adviser for sharing this. This really spells out the dedication, experience and skills that are at stake if the Money & Pensions Service persist with its cuts to face-to-face services.
I’m a MaPS funded debt adviser, technical supervisor and an accredited member of the Institute of Money Advisers. I work for a local advice organisation. I’ve worked under various funders including FIF, LSC and now MaPS. Prior to the Covid19 pandemic we tended to see clients face-to-face for their first appointment, so that we could get them to sign forms and we could go through their letters and help them sort them out and scan them for our casework file. Sometimes they’d have a carrier bag full of unopened letters but this wasn’t the norm. Mostly people had opened their letters but they had been storing them in a big cluttered pile.
Most clients would say that it felt like a weight had been lifted. Occasionally clients would cry with relief.
Clients were often really surprised at how quickly we could sort them into individual piles, extracting and shredding the duplicates and leaving with a nice tidy handful of letters that they could then organise into their own file when they got home. Clients often commented how they felt so much better afterwards. Some proudly told me a few months later that their letters were still really organised and it was obvious that they felt really empowered. And for me that was always a really rewarding part of the job. Most clients would say that it felt like a weight had been lifted. Occasionally clients would cry with relief.
I’d usually say to clients in the first appointment that the purpose of a face-to-face appointment was so that we could meet each other and I could get their paperwork copied. Then if they were happy to, we would continue the advice journey by telephone and email. Sometimes clients were clear that they could only manage with face-to-face advice which was fine, but most clients preferred not to have to come to the office after that when they could just email or pick up the phone. I’d probably do on average 1-2 face-to-face appointments with casework clients, yet I’d still consider myself a face-to-face adviser.
Our organisation is just getting back to offering face-to-face appointments. We have been doing a great job giving advice by phone but have found the administration to be extremely time-consuming, and we’ve found that most clients find the paperwork aspect very difficult. Providing various letters that we need can be extremely challenging for them especially if they have lots of different debts. Some clients will manage to do the tasks if we support them to do one thing at a time, some clients unfortunately disengage. Some clients later return to start the process again from the beginning, on receipt of a bailiff letter or notice of possession proceedings or other action that has worried them enough to seek help.
When we were only able to offer phone advice some clients expressed frustration with us and commented that “they can’t manage” and “they need support” and “they just wanted everything to be sorted” And of course these are the clients that need our help the most and we want to help them. But if we lose face-to-face services how can we help them? Who do we refer them to? I feel like the buck tends to stop with the debt caseworkers to help get clients back on their feet.
Because we are so much more than debt caseworkers. We are benefits advisers, housing advisers, care coordinators, counsellors, advocates and mentors.
Because we are so much more than debt caseworkers. We are benefits advisers, housing advisers, care coordinators, counsellors, advocates and mentors. Many of us have many years of experience and we have built up local connections with the council, housing associations and local charitable organisations and other partners. We commit to regular training to keep our knowledge up to date. And things have been changing so fast recently and it’s hard to keep up but we do, because we have to. We are highly qualified specialists and many of us consider it a vocation that we are incredibly proud of.
I am in a fortunate position that I do not have to worry about my job security after we lose MaPS funding, but I do worry for clients, for all advisers facing redundancy and for debt advisers unable to refer vulnerable clients for extra support face-to-face.
I have been a debt adviser for almost 20 years. It’s been so rewarding. I imagined that I would retire from my role in 20 years’ time and could never imagine doing anything else. But more recently I keep thinking about retraining to do something completely different. It all weighs heavily on my mind…. worrying about the future of debt advice, more deficit budgets, more vulnerable clients, more priority debts, but not wanting to run away from the challenges ahead just when I’ll be needed the most.
I’m probably going to stick around for now. I work for a nice organisation and I’m staying hopeful that things will get better eventually for advisers so we can better support more vulnerable clients. But honestly, I’m expecting the next few months/years to be a bumpy ride.