We at the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) want to understand the effect that the closure of face-to-face public services during the Covid-19 pandemic has on the accessibility and delivery of debt advice in the UK.
While we know the temporary removal of common “triggers” for debt advice at the start of the pandemic led to a drop in demand for debt advice services, anecdotally we have heard that some groups who needed advice (despite the suspension of these triggers) did not or could not access it due to the closure of the majority of face-to-face services as a result of government health guidelines.
Impact of Covid-19 on financial wellbeing
As part of our UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing, we have made increasing the supply of high-quality debt advice one of our five priorities. Following the start of the pandemic, we commissioned research to understand the impact of Covid-19—and the subsequent emergency lockdown measures—on groups already vulnerable to financial shocks, and their ability to access debt advice.
The research found that those groups who were more likely to be in financial difficulty prior to the pandemic continued to be disproportionately affected. People from a global majority/ethnic minority background, and those with physical or mental health disabilities were most disadvantaged compared to the rest of the population. Young people were also more likely to face financial difficulty during this period than older people. And while the rapid adoption of new technologies, alongside the greater use of telephone consultations, enabled the majority of debt advice services to be maintained, there were concerns that there remained an unserved population for debt advice due to the closure of in-person services.
Building on this evidence review and to test this hypothesis, we want to gather further insights on the impact of the closure of face-to-face debt advice services, particularly for those groups most at risk from financial shocks, and to identify the factors behind why some of these groups may not have accessed debt advice services during the period when face-to-face services were closed.
We will use this evidence to draw lessons on how services can be designed and delivered in future to reach and engage people in vulnerable circumstances, and, where relevant, those protected under the Equality Act, to ensure MaPS meets its Public Sector Equality Duty and its obligations under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 to consider and address the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances.
We are seeking input on the following questions:
- What are your reflections on the impact of the closure of face-to-face debt advice services, particularly for those customers more likely to have been struggling financially prior to the pandemic?
- What changes, if any, did you see in the socio-economic and/or demographic profile (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, disability status) of your client base during the pandemic?
- Reflecting on any changes you made to your service delivery model during the pandemic, what impact did these have on the type of the cases you were seeing during that time, either in terms of complexity or urgency/priority?
- How has the pandemic affected the way you deliver debt advice?
- How did the closure of in-person services affect how you engage with your community networks as sources of client referrals for debt advice, and how did you adapt your approach?
- What were the challenges and opportunities, and how can MaPS capitalise on these opportunities in the design and delivery of future debt advice services?
Please provide any evidence to support your answers to the above questions. Note: this does not need to be of a publishable standard.
Open call for evidence
We welcome written responses, in any format, from all interested parties.
In your response, please state:
- whether you’re responding on behalf of an organisation or in a personal capacity
- which question you are addressing – you don’t need to respond to all of the questions if they are not relevant to you
- whether you’re willing to be contacted for further information – if you are, please provide contact details, and
- whether you would like your response to remain confidential.
Please send your response in ODT, DOCX, PDF or similar text format to email@example.com by 12pm on 29 October 2021. Please also get in touch at this email address if you prefer to send your response by post and we can make arrangements for this.