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Talk Money Week: Proposal to cut debt advice funding will cause ‘debt advice deserts’

Written by: Emma Lunn
Parts of the UK will become ‘debt advice deserts’ if plans to reduce the funding for face-to-face services go ahead, according to Unite.

The Money and Pension Advice Service (MaPS) plans to halve face-to-face funding which will mean redundancies for debt advice specialists and a much-reduced service for people in need of help, according to the union.

Unite issued the warning at the start of this year’s Talk Money Week. It says the cut in funding will mean many areas will see reduced access to debt advisers and some services will close altogether.

Unite says that in Leeds, for example, three out of four MaPS-funded debt agencies will no longer be able to provide debt advice after 31 March. Meanwhile, according to internal projections by Citizens Advice, in West Yorkshire 32 face-to-face adviser posts will be cut to 11 and in East Riding and north Lincolnshire, 18.5 full-time equivalent posts will plummet to only four.

Unite’s debt advice members are concerned that moving to online consultations will mean people with complex debt problems will be left without the detailed advice and support they need to address spiralling debt.

The union says that MaPS’ plans are based on research conducted before the pandemic and don’t take into account the huge changes since March 2020. Nearly three quarters of debt advisers say their cases are more complex now than before the pandemic. Many more people are juggling debt from rent arrears, loss of wages, increasing fuel costs and rising prices.

The MaPS services are directly funded by the government via the Department for Work and Pensions and also has significant input from the Treasury. Unite is calling on MaPs to halt the process while it commissions independent evidence and engages with frontline staff to find a way forward.

Siobhan Endean, Unite national officer, said: “Evidence seen by Unite shows that face-to-face MaPS-funded debt advice jobs will be reduced by more than 50% from April 2022.

“This will mean devastation for this vital service, including redundancies for debt advisers and reduced services for people in need of help. Advice deserts will open up across England bringing real hardship to people who need someone to turn to.

“MaPS’s plans to shift from face-to-face advice towards call centres and webchat may work well for some people, but the most vulnerable people, and those with the most complex cases, can often only deal with their problems in person.

“We are saying to MaPS and the government that they must think again. The planned changes are based on out-of-date evidence which is not fit for these times. Our expert advisers report that the pandemic has made the cases they are dealing with so much more complicated. This process must be halted in order to engage frontline debt advisors in the future of this essential service.”

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