We would like a more ambitious final Business Plan that delivers more funding for free debt advice and solutions. This should not be “more of the same” but break new ground in terms of commissioning process and delivery. We call for fully open access to funding as part of a refreshed framework that secures innovation and diversity of provision for service users, efficiency and effectiveness for funders, and long term stability for all stakeholders.
MAS say there is “a significant and widening funding gap” for free debt advice. In this context, their proposal for an extra £3 million funding, securing 43,000 additional debt advice sessions, doesn’t seem ambitious enough as capacity would still decline. Meanwhile, demand for debt advice will grow in the short term, driven by the economy and increasing financial vulnerability. We think MAS should aim to grow overall capacity year on year. An increase in front line debt advice funding of £7 million would represent a serious start in the journey to match debt advice services to the need.
Recognising the additional burden on levy-payers, the sector needs to change in response to extra funding: agencies need to collaborate to provide the best journeys for clients, and each provider has an obligation to improve efficiency and productivity, and demonstrate effectiveness.
We welcome the move towards the commissioning focus set out by the Government, and welcome MAS’s early engagement with the sector on how future commissioning should work. We believe commissioning should ensure diversity of provision, in appropriate channels, and bring in fresh thinking on how to deliver the best client outcomes. We encourage MAS to look into funding debt solutions, particularly debt relief orders, and enabling innovation and efficiency by funding digital infrastructure.
We would like the final Business Plan to:
- Prioritise and accelerate the suggested review of debt advice funding. A demanding but realistic timeframe is essential to make sure short term funding isn’t blighted
- Prioritise the transition towards the proposed replacement financial guidance body
- Review other activities to secure resources for these priorities
- Map financial capability and money guidance plans against a segmentation of the 8 million over-indebted population, not all of whom need debt advice. Many of this group would benefit from policy change to prevent financial vulnerability and a lack of resilience from deteriorating into a future debt crisis
- Fit into an overall national debt prevention strategy that improves the stability and sufficiency of income for vulnerable groups, and offers better options and protections for people using credit to get by. Financial capability improvements are necessary in the long term, but will not be sufficient given the root causes of problem debt.