Helen Undy, Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health
Campaign victory - protecting funding for debt advice
14 February 2022
Today saw a major u-turn in plans for recommissioning debt advice in England, following our investigation flagging significant concerns about cuts to funding for face to face services, and months of campaigning by debt advisors.
The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) today increased the funding available for face to face services by 50% (to £30m), safeguarding these vital services which can be a particular lifeline for people with mental health problems who can struggle to access telephone or online debt advice. These services will be particularly vital amidst the current cost of living crisis, with energy and other household bills soaring and an anticipated rise in demand for debt help.
In December we concluded an investigation into MaPS’ recommissioning of debt advice in England, calling for the process to be paused and funding protected for face-to-face services, which were set to be dramatically cut. While overall funding for debt advice was to be increased, the vast majority was planned for remote services – including automated online advice and telephone advice. This was a particular concern for us given we know that over half of people with mental health problems have significant difficulty using the phone to access essential services.
The proposed changes to commissioning are complex, and our paper explores them in detail. There were some welcome shifts, like the move to longer-term contracts and mandating mental health training, but the cuts to face-to-face services threatened to fatally undermine these positive moves.
A winding road to getting it right
After the publication of our findings in December, we wrote to the relevant Government Ministers to raise our concerns and the commissioning process for face-to-face services was paused, but no new funding was allocated. Debt advice services have now faced months of uncertainty about funding levels and contract renewals, leading to reports of advisors leaving the sector and services threatened with closure.
Today’s announcement provides clarity as well as very welcome funding. While the process is still some way from being resolved, with another interim grant provided to regional services while the best process for allocating funding for face-to-face services is established, we welcome MaPS’ commitment to working with the sector to get this right.
It’s not easy to make a u-turn, so we’re grateful that MaPS has listened and is learning from this process, and to all the #SaveDebtAdvice campaigners for their hard work. We’ll be keen to continue to work with MaPS to ensure that people with mental health problems can get access to high quality debt advice that works for them, through a variety of channels – including face-to-face.
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