An advice scheme set up to help people cope with money and other problems stemming from welfare reforms, run by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, is achieving results according to an initial evaluation report.
The report, on two of the three streams of the Making Advice Work (MAW) programme set up last year, finds that in its first 11 months, 53 of the 72 MAW-supported projects between them helped nearly 18,000 people with more than 21,000 legal issues, bringing them total financial gains of around £9m.
Problems were resolved for 78% of people surveyed who received advice from the projects.
Running until March this year, the MAW programme has a total of £7.45m funding from the Scottish Government and the independent Money Advice Service.
The two streams evaluated provide advice and representation to help people facing financial and other difficulties arising from welfare reforms; and support projects led by social landlords that provide similar assistance to tenants.
Stream 3, which will be evaluated separately, targets the needs of people with disabilities and people experiencing domestic abuse.
It was discovered that over half of the people helped by MAW projects who were surveyed said they had been diagnosed with a mental health problem (though the programmes were not specifically targeted at such individuals), nearly 40% had no qualifications, and one in three were permanently sick or disabled.
Those surveyed also said that as a result of getting advice through MAW, they knew more about how to respond to problems in future, felt more confident and were sleeping better.
Caroline Siarkiewicz, head of UK Debt Advice Programme, Money Advice Service, commented: “We are very pleased to read about the great progress the Making Advice Work (MAW) programme has made in helping indebted people access debt advice in Scotland. We know from our own research that free debt advice works, and nine out of 10 people take action once they have received debt advice.
"The MAW evaluation clearly shows that this project is achieving positive outcomes for indebted people, who are going on to take action to resolve and reduce their outstanding debts.
"The Money Advice Service looks forward to continuing our work with SLAB to deliver free, high quality debt advice to people in Scotland when they need it most.”
Colin Lancaster, deputy chief executive of SLAB, added: "While much focus is rightly on increased income for people, the evaluation clearly demonstrates that this is also about access to justice; seeking to ensure that the law is applied correctly first time, that early and sustainable resolution is achieved when problems do occur, and if this is not possible seeking to ensure that people access appropriate advice and representation to enforce their rights.
"The fact that both funders have stated they are keen to continue partnership funding through SLAB beyond March 2015 is testament to the hard work which project staff have carried out for clients."