Frontline first responders could help UK’s most vulnerable avoid debt

New trials are looking to build on evidence that training frontline support workers in money guidance can help the UK’s most vulnerable people to address and avoid financial problems such as going into debt.

Funded and coordinated by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), the trials will be run by Shelter England, Shelter Scotland, Hafal in Wales and NIACRO in Northern Ireland. With support from MaPS, each organisation will build on their existing services to design and provide ‘Money Supporter’ training for practitioners working in supported housing, mental health services and support services for offenders and their families.

The trials aim to help vulnerable working-age people experiencing life events such as relationship breakdowns, job loss or mental health issues to rely less on credit for buying essentials and to increase their savings. Research has suggested that people going through life events like these do not proactively look for money guidance – in fact people only sought out support for 41% of life events they experience.

People experiencing life events also fare much worse when it comes to money outcomes. For example, people with a mental health diagnosis are three times as likely to be over-indebted (36%) than those without a diagnosis (11%).

In these cases, people could be more receptive to money guidance offered to them by support services they already use because it’s practical and immediately relevant to their lives4, within a trusted and familiar environment.

In the trials, practitioners will be trained to identify money management issues and be equipped with the skills to provide general guidance to people, such as talking about the basics of budgeting, the main types of credit and how to open a bank account. They will also refer people to appropriate specialist resources such as debt advice.

Nicola Robinson, a Shelter England adviser who works in one of the charity’s prison resettlement services, said: “Our goal is help people to find or keep their home, and we know that money problems or difficulty getting out of debt can contribute to, or make housing issues a lot worse.

“It’s great that Shelter advisers like myself can take part in this pilot where we’ll receive training that will hopefully mean we’re better equipped to offer basic money advice to people who are really struggling. Being able to give timely and expert support can make a real difference in helping someone to get back on their feet and rebuild their life.”

Diane Barclay, an adviser from The Action Group, a charity for people with learning disabilities partnering with Shelter Scotland on the trials, said: “Financial problems impact us all and can be a minefield, causing stress and anxiety. As a support worker having the opportunity to undertake a training course on money support will be invaluable. Financial training will broaden my understanding and confidence on dealing with budgets, savings accounts and signposting to other agencies, which can offer guidance to those who may be struggling financially. It will take the loneliness out of managing money problems by yourself.”

The trials are one of the examples of how MaPS is acting as a catalyst for improving the UK’s financial health by working in partnership with organisations, following the launch of the UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing. The ambitious 10-year strategy sets goals to improve financial education, get more people saving, help people rely less on credit, increase access to debt advice, and help more people plan for later life.

MaPS’ ambition is to roll out similar models to any sector where practitioners encounter and provide support to people who have money issues.

Sarah Porretta, Strategy and Insights Director at the Money and Pensions Service said: “At times when people are going through other life challenges, staying on top of money matters can take a back seat. Sadly, this means money problems build up. We hope that by making money guidance available as part of the wider support system we can help people avoid additional problems such as debt.

“Financial wellbeing underpins our overall health and happiness and cannot be left to chance. We’ll be using the learnings from these trials to look at how to roll out successful money supporter training across the whole of the UK in the future.”

The trials will focus on three different groups of practitioners, supporting:

  • 250 practitioners working with residents in supported housing in Scotland, across Shelter Scotland and its delivery partners
  • 200 practitioners at Hafal working with people with mental health problems in Wales
  • 160 Shelter practitioners working with offenders and ex-offenders and their families in England
  • 12 NIACRO project workers from children and family services and 20 peer supporters who work with families of those in custody in Northern Ireland

The trials will run from January to the end of June, with results to be reported in mid-2020.