Plans for an improved debt advice system have been published by the Scottish Government.
The move follows the advice sector urging ministers to take a fresh look at how funding is distributed, following the devolving to the Scottish Parliament of the debt advice levy, used to support helplines and face to face advice projects. Official figures showing one in seven Scots facing problem debt – regularly missing payments, or struggling to keep up with commitments – and advice providers have voiced real concerns that demand for debt advice far outstrips capacity to provide it.
Ministers are basing their approach on the recommendations of the Tackling Problem Debt Group, which reported in June. The Government recognises that what it seeks to achieve is already happening to different extents in different parts of Scotland. It aims to support good practice, while helping to overcome some of the challenges that prevent wider adoption, exploring the use of developing technology where appropriate.
The plan includes developing more joined-up services between the many different advice providers and funders, with sharing expertise leading to better morale and service provision. Investment should strike the right balance between supporting immediate service needs, and developing services for the future.
A programme of user testing will be developed, and levy funding will also be used to drive technological innovation for the delivery of debt advice. A workforce strategy will also be devised, and most advice projects will be offered multi-year funding from next April in order to create more stability and better staff progression. Work will also continue ion viable options for new funding sources.
Business Minister Jamie Hepburn commented:
“Problem debt can increase stress and strain on families and friendships, and it often affects those who are already struggling. Sadly, these issues can become a greater strain at Christmas time.
“Early intervention can help mitigate the damaging effects of problem debt, but people often delay getting help, or advice providers struggle to meet demand.
“This plan sets out our ambition to create a free debt advice system that responds to the needs of those who seek it, offers more joined-up services and has adequate funding to survive and provide high quality services.”