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.