As well as providing money and pensions guidance through the MoneyHelper and Pension Wise brands, the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) is the largest single funder of debt advice provision in England, working with a number of providers to do so. (Debt advice is a devolved matter and so debt advice funding in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is administered by their national governments). People can find free and expert debt advice using the locator tool on the MoneyHelper website.
MaPS has recently been out to tender for debt advice provision in England. This new approach will support debt advisers in providing expert, free of charge debt advice to people who are struggling to keep on top of their bills and payments. Throughout the process we have shared information via our procurement portal, accessible to everyone registering an interest in accessing it. We have also held market engagement events and responded to hundreds of questions from interested parties. All bids are now submitted and evaluation is underway.
When we published the requirements for the provision of debt advice, we asked potential providers to tell us how they would provide a seamless experience for customers, including vulnerable people with complex needs. We designed these new service standards together with actual debt advice customers, as well as using insight from debt advisers and our previous commissioning. Importantly, we have built in flexibility to take into account how things might change as a result of the pandemic.
At the same time, we want to give long-term certainty to the debt advice community, so MaPS intends to let contracts for an initial three year period, moving away from the current system of one-year grants.
We know that advisers working on the front line know their customers best, so we’ve asked debt advice providers to tell us how they will deliver what customers need, in the way that customers need it, including continuing to offer face-to-face services. We also want them to consider how other service channels — such as virtual appointments — should also form part of the service they offer. In addition, we asked providers to set out how they will protect the wellbeing of advisers, and invest in their training and career progression.
The government’s furlough and payment holiday policies have been really successful in helping many people stay in control of their finances during the pandemic, but we know that demand for debt advice will increase over the coming months, and cases may become more complex. We want to make sure that we are all ready to respond to that increase and provide the expert support people need as they work through their debt advice journey and get their finances back on track.