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.