Access to debt advice during Covid-19 pandemic

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Two years on from the pandemic, we, at the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), have been looking at the effect the closure of in-person services during the pandemic had on the accessibility and delivery of debt advice in the UK.

The idea for the research came from our UK Challenge Group, who were concerned that the overall fall in demand for debt advice seen during the pandemic was partially driven by some vulnerable groups needing debt advice but not being able to access it because of the closure of in-person services.

Our own research, and feedback from the debt advice sector, told us that some groups already vulnerable to financial shocks were more likely to be negatively affected by the pandemic. Because of this we wanted to look more closely at how far the closure of community based in-person debt advice services disproportionately impacted any of these groups.

We launched a call for evidence in late September 2021, as well as carrying out interviews with debt advice organisations and groups working with different communities across the UK. The insights from these exercises have helped us to understand both the effects of the closure of in-person services on people in vulnerable circumstances, and how debt advice and other related services can be more resilient to sudden and ongoing disruption.

Through this research, we begin to draw lessons on how services might be designed and delivered in future to reach and engage people in vulnerable circumstances, and to support organisations to put the right business continuity policies and procedures in place to manage system-wide disruption to services.

The report summarises what we heard and considers the actions we can take to support and collaborate with the debt advice sector to deliver on our promise to improve the quality and availability of debt advice across the UK.

Key findings

  • Based on an analysis of our own data and data shared with us by our funded agencies, we tentatively conclude that, at a macro level, the closure and reduction of in-person services does has not appear to have disproportionately excluded any particular client group.
  • In-person debt advice services delivered in community settings will continue to best meet the needs of some clients, particularly for those dealing with more complex problems. Although identifying who these clients are will require further research.
  • There is an opportunity for greater collaboration between advice providers to meet clients’ needs. Related to this is the importance of recognising and adapting to the wider ecosystem in which debt advice sits.
  • Technology will play a greater role in building resilience and enabling more flexibility in the way debt advice services are delivered in the future. It is critical that services are modelled around retaining some elements of end-to-end remote advice for the foreseeable future.
  • A sector-wide approach to supporting workforce wellbeing should be developed, particularly as we move towards more hybrid forms of working.

Presented together, we believe the insights from this report offer a positive vision for the future of debt advice in the UK. We will explore opportunities for further research and continue to work with stakeholders to consider how these opportunities can be capitalised on in the design and delivery of debt advice services in the future.