CHAPTER 5 INFORMING MAINSTREAM MONEY ADVICE
5.1 This final chapter draws out key lessons from the evaluation that aim to inform mainstream services seeking to meet the needs of target groups. First, it summarises key issues for target groups in accessing money advice. It goes on to look at the impact of projects, outlining the overall effectiveness of the models used. It provides guidance on effective delivery mechanisms that can be adopted into mainstream money advice services and makes recommendations for effective approaches to service delivery and on wider policy issues. The conclusions are followed by some notes that reflect on the research and evaluation process.
Issues for disadvantaged groups
5.2 Disadvantaged groups of people have limited knowledge of their social legal and welfare rights (Gillespie et al, 2005). Lack of awareness of benefits and other entitlements was also evident in this research and many interviewees had not used advice services before. Amongst those who had used advice services, the experience could be negative and was almost exclusively so for interviewees using the learning disabilities project. The lack of evidence of people with learning disabilities using the other pilot projects suggests that mainstream advice remains closed to many such individuals. Many did not know what they could do to address their money problems or where to get help. The fact that some interviewees had no awareness of money advice before using one of the projects acts as a reminder that people in trouble are still falling through the cracks of advice provision and that much more could be done to target take-up of services and improve accessibility.
5.3 An ongoing struggle to manage on a low income led to some interviewees seeking advice, but the research found that intervening events and transition points were important - separation and divorce, the onset of ill health, stopping or starting work, a new family member or caring responsibilities and benefits loss and withdrawal were all recurring features. People who managed well on benefits or low wages had little or nothing in reserve when circumstances changed and the consequences of a drop in income was significant for many. For others, particularly people with learning disabilities or mental health problems, lack of knowledge, capacity or confidence to manage their financial affairs led to over-indebtedness or financial loss that soon mushroomed out of control in some cases.
5.4 Our research shows that money advice can increase people's confidence to manage their own financial affairs and improve well-being, through a combination of approaches to support. Key features of this support included: help with budgeting; income maximisation; reduced or written off debts; help with repayments, including reduced or token arrangements. The positive effects of an increase in disposable income showed through interviewees managing their finances better and feeling they had improved their quality of life. However, even with more confidence, others said they would continue to struggle to make ends meet on a low income. Combined with the fact that many of those needing advice did not feel they lacked knowledge or awareness of financial issues, this reinforced the central necessity of an adequate income for good money management and the important role of advice for maximising income and minimising outgoings as well as helping people to manage bills and debts.
Advice needs of target groups
5.5 Evidence of links between service user groups and the type of advice needed can inform proactive approaches to advice. Examples in relation to debt and money issues, included benefits claims, joint debts and childcare issues for lone parents; help to claim benefits, reduce expenditure and to address inappropriate financial arrangements and bank charges for people with learning disabilities; coping with debt and the onset or recurrence of mental ill health; benefits problems for people with multiple health problems. Problems with bank charges arose across service user groups, but particularly for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems. Advisers have used post office accounts to address problems with accessing benefits payments through banks. It is likely that these accounts will not be acceptable for payment of benefits in the future. This means that, unless appropriate arrangements are made to deal with such difficulties, individuals will remain vulnerable to the kind of problems identified here.
Overall impact of pilot projects
Limitations of monitoring data
5.6 Although case recording and some monitoring is undertaken in most advice services, this first attempt at gathering consistent monitoring data did not work well. In addition to lack of familiarity with new software in some projects, computer and staffing issues, some staff members were not comfortable with collecting some of the information from service users. As a result, in several of the pilot projects, data on participants' characteristics, the advice and services provided and outcomes for service users were incomplete. Gaps in monitoring data limited analysis of the reach of different projects to target groups and the issues raised and impact of advice for different groups of service users. The ability to quantify potential demand for services and establish guidance on caseload management has also been affected. In the prisoners' project, for example, although there is a clear need for money advice within the prison environment, the limited monitoring data available prevents us from providing guidance on caseload management and assessing potential demand. Despite the limitations of monitoring data, some conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of different approaches because a range of methods were used for the evaluation, including: interviews with service users, staff in other services and other stakeholders; meetings and workshops with staff and managers; and the quality audit.
5.7 The difficulties associated with implementing and collecting monitoring data suggest: first, that there is a need to ensure, as part of project proposals, that organisations have the capacity to conduct monitoring as a core activity in pilot projects or action research; second, investment is required to increase capacity and improve the quality of monitoring across the advice sector more generally.
Effectiveness of Projects
5.8 The factors considered to be important are discussed in more detail in the next section in which we draw out lessons for mainstream services and consider whether for some groups of people specialist service provision is required. However, the overall impact of projects is discussed here, including comparison of the effectiveness of approaches taken. See table A2.1 (p 70) for a summary of the models tested in the pilots.
5.9 The transitions to work projects had mixed success in reaching the groups they were targeting and reliance on JCP as the sole or main referral route was not effective. Only one of the 5 projects, Glasgow Central, operated at a level reflecting the targets anticipated in proposals. Positive features of that project included: a community base in an area with few existing advice services; clear roles and responsibilities and effective working relationships between project partners; and an informal approach to advice that broke down barriers for disadvantaged service users in the community and generated high levels of self referral.
5.10 The Parkhead and East Renfrewshire projects had few referrals and such small numbers of service users that they were extremely costly to run. Both had particular problems with referrals from JCP projects, offered a traditional office based service and had difficulties that related to the location of projects (well established services in the locality in the former and a lack of services with which to work in the latter). Of the remaining 2 projects, Renfrewshire increased its referrals base with some success and, through community based outreach, developed approaches that were particularly effective for service users with mental health problems who made up a significant proportion of their clients. JCP remained the main source of referrals for the Argyll and Bute project. Key lessons from their experience relate to the significance of travel and the need for flexibility in caseload management in rural areas. Workshops in Argyll and Bute were considered effective by staff and participants but lack of data prevented full evaluation.
5.11 The specific difficulties of the location of projects point to the need to engage with multiple referral sources rather than relying on one potentially unreliable source. In other respects, the poor rate of referrals from Jobcentre Plus would appear to sit at odds with a general recognition of the need for advice and support with money matters for people making the transition to work. However, previous research suggests that trust and confidence is important for disadvantaged groups in accessing services and that trusted intermediaries have an important role to play in supporting access to advice (Gillespie et al, 2005). Another money advice pilot project being run through Capital City Partnership is based in employability services that are attached to a college. Early indications from that project are for similar concerns with JCP referral rates, but other routes are having more impact. This suggests that there are issues in working through JCP rather than employability services generally. These may be that JCP is not acknowledged as a trusted source, or that relationships with JCP require more time to establish. In addition, some of the projects indicated that their mainstream debt cases increased during the period of the pilot, suggesting that some individuals chose to approach the service directly rather than through the formal referral route. In addition to the report on the Capital City Partnership project, further work on developing advice services linked to employability services would be of value.
5.12 The 4 targeted projects used different models of support to reach and deliver services to target groups. The lone parent helpline project was effective at sustaining, but not increasing, enquiries to the telephone advice service. Briefings were pitched at the right level and were very effective for reinforcing complex advice by telephone. As a well publicised first point of contact, the project reached large numbers of lone parents, but is not an advice model that is recommended for reaching the most disadvantaged lone parents. The helpline did not increase the financial focus of advice, but training for staff in other services was effective at raising awareness of and confidence about meeting the advice and support needs of lone parents.
5.13 The learning disabilities project did not achieve the workloads anticipated, but systematic monitoring showed the targets set were over-ambitious. Work with individuals was intensive and, in some cases, involved a great deal of direct contact time and the need for support with issues that would not normally be undertaken in mainstream advice services, such as negotiating banking arrangements. The project demonstrated the flexibility needed to be effective at supporting people with learning disabilities. This model would replicate well as a specialist service in an urban area, but in areas of lower population density joint work between mainstream services and specialist services would be more realistic.
5.14 The texting service developed in the young persons' project was less effective at reaching a wide audience than the more established telephone helpline service for lone parents. Although the text service was effective at reaching young people when advertising gave it a high profile, contacts fell away quickly thereafter. The approach tested may be more suited to delivery at a Scottish or UK level with sustained advertising, but it is not recommended as a model for local development. It is also a useful method of making contact with young people rather than an approach to delivering advice services. Outreach work, linking with youth projects and services, to encourage referrals, had modest results. Piloting of other approaches should be considered, including approaches that break from the traditional model of service delivery that young people consider is not relevant for them.
5.15 The model developed in the prisoners' project relied on achieving self referral. It used effective approaches to engaging with prisoners and identified that money advice enquiries tended to be routine in nature. Talks to groups of prisoners were essential for raising awareness of the projects. The potential for deskilling and the isolated nature of the work for a lone worker indicate that job sharing in such work would be more appropriate. Further work, including systematic monitoring, is needed to understanding more about effective advice models for prisoners. Key areas for further action research include learning more about which groups of prisoners need advice and support, effective approaches to delivering advice in prisons, developing effective referral routes and supporting prisoners' families.
5.16 The project for black and minority ethnic groups was partly effective in achieving some strategic aims such as increasing the participation of BME services in locality based advice networks and increasing understanding of advice standards in BME services. Activities such as development and training days and a directory of services revised to include information about BME services were all valued by both mainstream and targeted services. However, poor levels of engagement with the project, evidence of bad practice in mainstream services and lack of evidence of changing practice in mainstream or targeted services lead us to conclude that the approach adopted here was not sufficiently effective to be replicated. Development approaches that involve key stakeholders, particularly services at the operational level and service user representatives are suggested as alternative approaches that may have more impact on improving access to mainstream services.
5.17 Although it is not finished, the approach used in the mental health project offers potential to be effective at engaging with a wider range of stakeholders. Advice services, targeted services and service users are involved at decision making and operational levels, with initiatives targeting both services and service users and on approaches to service delivery and access to services. The project is piloting a personal log which has been designed to allow service users to collate all the information they need to provide to services, with the aim of giving them control of the information they provide. Final outcomes from that project are expected in 2007.
5.18 In summary, the transitions to work models did not succeed to the extent that they relied or referrals from Jobcentre Plus. However elements of approaches to delivery of advice and financial awareness raising were effective in achieving service delivery that met the needs of individual service users. The learning disabilities project was the most successful of the targeted projects in delivering the intensive and comprehensive service that its service users needed. The approaches used for engaging with target groups in the other services and the training and resource materials developed in the lone parent project were shown to be effective, but advice delivery methods may need further research. The development projects contain elements of value but the lack of engagement with stakeholders, particularly service user groups, in the BME project limited the potential of the project.
Lessons for Mainstream Service Provision
5.19 This section of the report aims to identify key lessons for mainstream services that want to improve the accessibility of their services for disadvantaged groups. Many of the points identified are relevant for most or all of the target groups under consideration, but we highlight issues that are of particular relevance for a specific target group. Approaches to advice and other activities are discussed first. This is followed by consideration of project implementation issues, covering referrals, caseload management, partnership and joint working and staff development and training.
5.20 A consideration for funders of advice services concerns the balance of mainstream as compared with specialist provision. Policy in Scotland seeks to achieve access to mainstream services where possible. The evidence from this research suggests that, for most groups and in most circumstances, the ideal is for individuals to be able to access mainstream advice services in a manner that meets the needs of the service user. This ideal aims to achieve access to the same levels of service, expertise and support as the general population. However, in order to achieve that goal, the skills and resources of mainstream advice services need to improve. The most obvious example that arises is in relation to learning disabilities where there is an ongoing failure of services to meet service user needs. Whilst specialist provision or involvement in partnership delivery remains essential at present, it is crucial that mainstream services become more accessible to people with learning disabilities. This is particularly important for people at the lower end of the disability spectrum who may not be in touch with specialist services, but are failing to achieve the support they need from mainstream services. Funding support for combined specialist service provision or partnership work is recommended, particularly where this can be combined with training, awareness and capacity building work with mainstream services.
Approaches to advice
5.21 The projects identified a diverse range of mental and/or physical health needs, language, mobility and cognitive barriers that can impact on the ability of service users to access mainstream money advice services. The following approaches were found to be effective for supporting sustainable improvements in the situations of service users and increasing their confidence to gain the advice they need :
- Flexibility in service delivery: Accessibility was enhanced with client choice of where to meet the adviser. Offering some combination of outreach work, home or hospital visits was essential to developing and maintaining contacts across service user groups, but particularly for people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.
- Telephone advice: This can be crucial for a lot of people, but particularly lone parents, those at a distance from services, with care responsibilities or in stressful situations. The lone parent project achieved support and empathy despite advice delivery using the more impersonal medium of the telephone. Good links with specialist services and robust referral mechanisms are crucial to the effectiveness of services that deliver a basic level of information and advice. However people with language or literacy problems or lack of confidence can find telephone based services less accessible, so additional approaches are necessary to reach, for example, more disadvantaged lone parents.
- Advice by email and IT: As more people have access to IT at home or in community facilities, it has considerable potential as a useful medium for getting information and advice to people in black and minority ethnic communities, rural communities, lone parents, disabled people and others who find it difficult to access services through traditional routes.
- Fast access to support: People can find it difficult to confront their money problems. Once a money advice issue is raised momentum can be lost if support is not accessed quickly.
- Proactive approaches to advice: It is important for information and advice providers to ensure that disadvantaged groups are fully informed. Approaches that may not form a normal part of advice work in some services may be necessary - those that were important in the pilots included additional telephone support, adviser-initiated follow-up with debt clients or contacts to remind them about appointments or other meetings, follow-up on missed appointments or to review progress or sustainability of repayment plans. Across the projects, contact by telephone or text was often more effective than contact by post. This was important across the target groups, but particularly for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
- Build trust and confidence: Approaches that build relationships such as seeing the same adviser, less formal setting for interview, contact by telephone were effective for improving access to services for people who lacked confidence with accessing advice. In the research, long waiting times, lack of contact with advisers or lack of consistency in adviser and reliance on written communication were all barriers for service users.
- Raise awareness of rights: Many vulnerable service users will have limited knowledge of their rights and entitlements. Services should ensure that the approach to advice includes exploring rights and entitlements beyond the issue raised by individuals and consider factors in addition to welfare benefits in income maximisation work such as individual rights as employees, students or disabled people. This is relevant for all service user groups, but it is particularly important for services to be proactive about rights for people with learning disabilities.
- Take time to reinforce advice: Across the projects staff delivered advice to clients who needed an environment that minimised anxiety and stress or who had learning or literacy difficulties. Many service users required longer interview times than mainstream clients or repeated interviews to gather information required for individuals to make informed decisions. Leaflets and briefings to reinforce advice were particularly important for the lone-parent helpline. In face to face advice, joint meetings with support workers or written information were effective. In the learning disabilities project, some clients' learning disabilities meant additional contacts with the adviser whether in writing, by telephone or face to face, were necessary to help them make fully informed decisions about the options available to them. Written information to support clients in making informed decisions needs to be accessible for the individual.
- Joint working with key workers: People with language or other communication difficulties may wish to access advice accompanied by a support worker or other person providing advocacy or support. Such needs should be accommodated to ensure a full understanding of the advice being given and the options available. Such joint work is important not just for advice, but for attendance at tribunals or other meetings and has the added benefit of raising mutual awareness and learning between services.
5.22 Consistent and accurate advice is always a central concern of advice services. However, the research suggests there are circumstances where there may be a higher risk of incomplete advice, particularly where advice staff are not fully trained, have limited knowledge or training and information systems do not guide them through options for support in a thorough and systematic way. That has the potential to impact upon service users, particularly those who have low awareness of their rights. This highlights the need for clarity about the boundaries of the service and for advisers to be confident about referral on to experienced advisers or other services. Appropriate case recording assists training and staff development and ensures transparency of the information and advice provided.
Non advice activities
5.23 Self help packs can provide an additional signposting route to advice service for potential clients and assist individuals who have the confidence to manage their debt without the help of a money adviser with the potential to release staff time for those who need it most.
5.24 Non-advice activities that aimed to increase financial capability included group and individual coaching sessions. Such approaches may be usefully integrated with advice. For example, an approach to one-to-one advice that is proactive about improving budgeting and financial knowledge was found to be effective in helping knowledge and understanding about financial products and improving confidence with money management for the most vulnerable clients in the transitions to work projects and in the learning disabilities project.
5.25 The research indicates that budgeting and money management often need to be incorporated as a standard part of debt counselling for young people. Group sessions were also effective when delivered in 'non-traditional' settings, through organisations already working with the group. The lone parent project developed a successful modular training programme which allows services to build a tailored training package. Although the sessions addressed general money related topics, they did so with a focus on lone parents.
Recommendation: Workshops and one-to-one coaching or support with budgeting and money management should be included where possible in the range of money advice services offered. For group sessions, a targeted strategy to address financial capability should include interactive workshops delivered as part of a life skills approach in which sessions are interactive and address the often linked problems of poor literacy and numeracy.
Recommendation: Modular training for staff working in communities with a focus on the money advice needs of specific groups can be effective for awareness raising about advice issues and offer a means of reaching more disadvantaged groups.
5.26 The two development projects focused on service development rather than direct advice provision, aiming to address standards of provision within existing services and build their capacity to deliver advice to target client groups. The model tested in the BME project proved valuable for strategic development within the council, but the impact on service users from this project cannot be quantified. This is because, although aiming to undertake development activities, much of the work in the early stages of the project was concerned with research and auditing of existing provision of advice by black and minority ethnic organisations. This improved understanding of the nature and standard of services and enabled the project to encourage referral to mainstream services. In the mental health project the approach includes work with service user groups and iterative work with mainstream advice and mental health projects. It will be important to assess if this is more successful as a route to improving access to advice.
5.27 There are elements of both projects that can have relevance for development of services across a range of target groups. In the later stages of the project for black and minority ethnic groups, a CAB outreach service piloted in a community organisation is a useful approach that was identified by research interviewees as effective in some existing initiatives. Outreach can act as an effective route to improving confidence in mainstream services and raising knowledge and awareness in both groups of organisations.
5.28 Lack of interpreting services was a key barrier to access for groups within the BME communities. The project did not address the lack of capacity for translation and interpreting in mainstream service. This remains a key barrier to advice for those who do not speak or understand English and remains a key barrier to be addressed at strategic and operational levels.
5.29 During our research, interviewees suggested there is a need for targeting services towards vulnerable groups within target groups such as young care leavers, families with disabled children or migrant workers, all of whom were viewed as having urgent unmet needs.
Recommendation: To achieve raised advice standards and improve referral mechanisms amongst specialist services, development work should involve ongoing engagement with and support for services and work with service users or service user groups.
Recommendation: Alternative approaches to addressing language difficulties should be developed such as: funding interpreting services that can also train and develop good practice amongst mainstream services; or a one stop shop approach housing various agencies and providing services in the main community languages. Strategic development of access to appropriate interpreting and translation services must include recognition of the costs of providing such support in funding arrangements, but mainstream services also must ensure that their services are accessible to non-English speakers.
Recommendation: To understand the impact of initiatives monitoring of use, of both outreach and mainstream services is essential.
5.30 Other issues arising and suggestions for alternative approaches that may help to improve access, awareness and standards of advice provision are as follows:
- Development workers require a range of skills to address the breadth of work that can involve advice expertise, training, community development, research and evaluation, language skills and experience of working with the target group(s). Such a range of skills indicates the need in most cases for projects to be able to draw on the time and expertise of several people rather than development workers seeking to gain all the skills needed.
- In addition to ongoing contact, measures to achieve and retain engagement with development projects include: development of practical tools such as the example of the revised GAIN directory; bringing services together for joint work and training; involvement of targeted services in advice or rights forums; and working groups with a remit for targeted service development.
- Development projects will benefit from the involvement of representatives of groups and services in development, planning and decision making. In addition to a more informed approach, such involvement will assist to build ownership and engagement.
- To maximise the impact of auditing of service standards, detailed feedback and follow up with individual services and development planning are important, particularly with those organisations that are the trusted intermediaries for target groups.
Referrals and money advice
5.31 Referrals in transitions to work projects were much lower than anticipated and approaches tested to increase referrals had little impact. Good management of referrals is essential for vulnerable clients to fully access support services once the need for additional support is identified. For prisoners, arrangements are important for continuity of support or referral to other services when prisoners are transferred to another prison. A database of prison based services would be helpful towards this end.
5.32 Effective strategies for encouraging self referral and awareness raising included interactive sessions with new prisoners during induction; engaging with community events; placing publicity materials in targeted locations; and in the young persons' project, bus adverts to promote a texting service.
5.33 Although some people needed advice at the point of starting work, help with debt and money management problems was often more important at an earlier stage and an important part of preparation for work. Help after starting work, particularly when benefits problems, such as delays or breaks in payments arose, was also important for some people.
Recommendation: Access to money advice is important at each stage of the transition to work and services should ensure referral agencies are aware of this need and establish referrals mechanisms to enable access. Proactive contact by advisers at key stages throughout the transition is recommended as good practice in working with this group.
Recommendation: Single referral sources generally, particularly Jobcentre Plus, are unlikely to reach target groups in sufficient numbers so links with a range of services working with target groups are essential.
Recommendation: Managed referrals should be incorporated into advice practice as part of joined-up provision that addresses barriers to services. Such approaches are equally relevant in relation to advice services referring on as they are for services providing managed or supported referrals to advice services.
Factors affecting caseload management
5.34 Poor transport links and travel cost were key barriers for service users living in rural areas, so delivery through a home-visiting or outreach service is essential. Travel time in the course of work can be significant in rural, remote and islands areas. Adequate IT resources are needed for advisers to be effective in delivering a mobile service. Safety considerations for those delivering services in homes or remote locations include problems such as the lack of a reception for mobile phones and the cost of joint visiting by advice workers.
5.35 For people with learning difficulties or individuals with complex health needs, longer interview times or repeat interviews needed mean that caseloads need to be smaller.
Recommendation: Targets and workload planning should account for factors such as travel time in rural areas and individual health or learning needs. Time recording can quantify travel time and assist in setting and justifying appropriately modified caseloads or targets.
Recommendation: In cases where service users are not known to staff, safety measures should be considered such as meeting clients in local community venues or linking up with other services or volunteers to make home visits.
Project start up and management
5.36 Dedicated project management, responsive to problems and barriers to service delivery, was important in the delivery of a continuous and consistent standard of service. Although locating some of the pilots within larger organisations enabled secondment and fast start up of projects, in others recruitment and set up problems delayed project delivery. The location within existing services reduced the need for staff training on money advice and enabled projects to draw from existing resources in some cases. However the learning disabilities project was located in a specialist service skilled in working with the target group, but new to money advice. This project showed that delivery of money advice as a new service need not be a constraint to provision of a high quality service, even in a relatively short time span, so long as such a service is managed in a way that ensures staff training needs and service resources and development needs are met and reviewed on a regular basis.
5.37 Staff changes presented difficulties throughout some of the projects. In some cases staff in post were replaced on more than one occasion and in some situations this had a significant impact in delaying the development and delivery of projects. This was particularly problematic in the later stages of projects and is generally more symptomatic of short life projects and temporary contracts than working with disadvantaged groups.
5.38 Other factors relating to project management that should be taken into account in developing services include the following:
- Straight forward and manageable targets can act as a steer for projects, particularly if they are attempting something new and innovative. Even if not met, they provide a focus for learning and aid the structure and strategic management of projects.
- Inclusion of measures to address lack of awareness of equality mainstreaming issues (e.g. disability or mental health in black and minority ethnic organisations, race and mental heath in mainstream services) are important. Factors that affect access to advice for disadvantaged groups are essential elements of staff training in mainstream services.
- The boundaries of services, particularly those not offering a full service, need to be clarified for service users who may perceive that they are receiving full and expert advice. This issue can be further complicated where, as in the case of the lone parent helpline, there were two tiers of support provided and not all staff dealing with enquiries had the expertise of the rights workers funded through the project. The risk of incomplete or wrong advice can be minimized through rigorous training and clear procedures for service delivery such as those developed by the organisation that ensure staff are aware of and explain the limits of the service being provided.
- Monitoring service use and provision is essential to ensuring that initiatives are addressing the barriers faced by disadvantaged groups and achieving their intended goals.
Partnership and joint working
5.39 Partnerships were viewed as particularly effective where there were mutual benefits, such as the provision of mainstream money advice training for the learning disabilities project and specialist awareness training on learning disabilities for the mainstream service staff. The research also identified that a partnership approach, working with local youth projects, is an effective way for mainstream services to deliver advice in 'non-traditional' locations and reach the most disadvantaged, vulnerable young people.
5.40 In the JCP pilots that were more successful in generating referrals project advisers undertook informal activities and built links and relationships with those making referrals for advice. However, few formal meetings of partners took place. These had the potential to be effective at addressing difficulties at every stage of delivery and for reinforcing the commitment of senior staff.
5.41 It is questionable as to whether new complex partnerships are a suitable route to developing and delivering short-term pilot research projects because of the length of time involved in partnership rather than project development. That is not to suggest that partnerships cannot have an important role in developing services to improve access to mainstream provision.
Recommendation: In view of the complexity of issues and needs of some disadvantaged groups in accessing advice, mainstream service delivery should involve effective links with specialist agencies and trusted intermediaries that can be mutually beneficial by increasing access to specialist training for money advisers.
Recommendation: In short-term projects and mainstream provision regular and robust formal and informal engagement between partners to review progress and development is essential to early diagnosis and remedies to implementation problems. Where a group of projects have a shared aim it is also recommended that the group meets to address problems and share learning from practice. Feedback to partners about the impact of a project or service can be important for maintaining interest and awareness.
Recommendation: Joint decision making bodies should include, wherever possible, representatives of the groups or organisations that will use or be involved with services.
Recommendation: Where partnerships are delivering short life projects, roles and remits should be clear and established prior to project implementation or even applications for funding. Decision making roles should be clear and enable staff who are responsible for delivering a project or service to do so with confidence.
Recommendation: For services targeting people with learning disabilities, specialist provision or partnership working between specialist and mainstream services both have the potential to address the combination of needs identified in the project and the research. A mainstreaming approach, building and maintaining relationships of trust and confidence with service users and carers is key.
Staff Skills and Training Needs
5.42 Money advisers working with disadvantaged groups may need additional training in order to address service user support needs and avoid burn-out. Race, disability, mental health, learning disabilities, working with young people, boundary setting and basic counselling were all important areas of skills development for staff on the pilot projects.
5.43 Regardless of whether advice is face to face or by telephone, frontline advisers need the support of experienced staff - the duty adviser approach to support for volunteers used in CABs offers a useful model for ensuring completeness and consistency in the standards of advice provided by staff who are not fully trained or experienced. On the understanding that incomplete advice is wrong advice, training and development plans are essential to ensure that staff are trained to a level of expertise that enables them to provide holistic advice and be fully aware of when referral to another service or adviser is appropriate.
5.44 The particular challenges and isolation of working in a prison environment highlight that such work is not suited to all staff. The limited range of work can be deskilling as many enquiries are straightforward, often concerning application for deferment of existing debts.
5.45 Combining the development of a money advice service with exiting expertise in working with people with learning disabilities was effective in the learning disabilities project. Such specialist services that have the relevant combination of skills would be well placed to support much needed development of mainstream provision for this client group through the development of a programme of training.
Recommendation: For services targeting disadvantaged groups, front-line staff should be trained on how to respond to crisis situations such as when someone says they are feeling suicidal.
Recommendation: To ensure accessibility and consistency in the quality of service for vulnerable clients, expertise in working with vulnerable groups should not be limited to people working in specialist teams. Cascade training is suggested as an effective approach in mainstream services that should include administrative staff providing front line contact with service users. Trainees and front line advisers may need additional support in complex cases.
Recommendation: Training that crosses traditional sectoral boundaries is suggested as a route for developing skills and knowledge on both advice issues and cultural or access issues for disadvantaged groups as well as developing links between services and support agencies. Other approaches such as short secondments or staff exchanges can help improve understanding about other services, approaches and working methods.
Recommendation: In developing prison based services it is recommended that work in prisons is shared between staff and combined with mainstream work, that careful attention is paid to staff training, supervision and support and clear policies and procedures are provided for dealing with enquiries involving the proceeds of crime.
Recommendation: In the Scottish Executive's financial support for money advice services, it is recommended that some funding is used to improve capacity of mainstream services better to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups. This could be done through funding training provision and/or specialist advice provision, including second tier support. In view of the negative experience of mainstream services, such support, training or direct provision should be targeted towards comprehensive and appropriate advice provision for disadvantaged groups and sustainable development and improvement of access to mainstream services.
5.46 Post office accounts have been used in the pilots to minimise problems with banks through charges and banks making deductions from benefit payments. Future changes in banking arrangements for benefits payments may make people vulnerable to the same kind of problems if they have to use bank accounts.
Recommendation: It is vital that the DWP ensure an appropriate route for receipt of rightful entitlements to benefits that does not place vulnerable groups such as people with learning disabilities at risk of being left with little or no income. Without such guarantees, current systems and future plans will continue to fail the most vulnerable groups.
Recommendation: Financial institutions should review their services to minimise the risk of money management problems and indebtedness for people with learning disabilities. This applies at the point of opening accounts and in reviews of accounts and services.
Recommendation: In wider approaches to financial inclusion there is a need for the Scottish Executive and the DTI to address the kind of problems identified here and elsewhere (Hurcombe, 2004) about the approach of banks and financial services to delivering services for people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. This will be particularly important in future if people have no option but to use banking services in order to access benefits entitlements.
5.47 The research and evaluation has highlighted that many people in disadvantaged groups need advice and support, often at times of crisis, transition and change in their lives. However, individuals may not recognise that money advice is part of the help they need or have any knowledge of their rights in a given situation. The person will view their situation in an holistic way and may not distinguish between financial and non-financial concerns. There is a need for advice and other services to take holistic approaches to the advice or support that they provide. Individual services cannot be expected to meet all the complex advice and support needs that an individual may have. In order to ensure that people get the support they need, good links between advice services and a range of support services are important to holistic solutions for individual service users.
5.48 However, across a spectrum of health issues, particularly mental health, and learning disabilities, there will always be people who fall through the net. Such individuals may be particularly vulnerable to difficulties with accessing services such as money advice. In addition, as the example of learning disabilities has highlighted in this research, they may be vulnerable to inappropriate financial agreements, services or banking arrangements. It is essential that advice and other services work in ways that enable them to identify and address such difficulties where ever possible and a range of practical measures to this end are outlined in this report.
5.49 In seeking to target disadvantaged groups the Scottish Executive is, in effect, advocating an equality mainstreaming approach. For advice services, this may require a culture change that would mean, for example, a shift away from reactive services that are 'open to all', but only on the service's terms, towards an approach that seeks to prioritise the most disadvantaged groups to ensure they can access the same services and get the support they need. Once such a stage is reached disadvantaged groups will no longer have to rely on special projects to achieve access to the services that other people take for granted.
Note on the research and evaluation process
5.50 In order to inform future pilot studies that involve or are part of an action research approach such as the money advice pilots, this final section provides an outline of key issues and recommendations relating to the research and evaluation process. The opportunity to undertake pilot projects of the number and scale involved in this study was new territory for everyone involved. This was particularly the case for the services involved in developing and delivering the project proposals, many of whom had not participated in this type of exercise in the past. In the course of the pilots several issues arose that affected the evaluation process and outcomes. These are summarised here along with some suggested approaches for future initiatives.
5.51 One difficulty already identified concerned assessing the difference that projects made. This arose because of the lack of detail in some project proposals about outputs and outcomes anticipated and problems with implementing the agreed monitoring framework (see paragraph 5.7, p50). The capacity to implement the monitoring and evaluation framework also relied on an effective approach to project management.
5.52 The evaluation team provided some consultancy support in the early stages of the projects, but project management rested with members of a small and busy team of staff in the Scottish Executive Social Inclusion Team. For the evaluators, consultancy support, particularly in developing monitoring systems, enabled the team to get to know the projects at an early stage, but it also blurred roles, particularly in view of the lack of dedicated project management. It is with the aim of maximising the effectiveness of pilot projects, that the following suggestions are made for approaches that would help to address some of the difficulties encountered in this study:
- Project proposals for action research should go through a process of scrutiny that reflects the expectations that currently exist for research proposals, such as: clarification on aims and objectives; how the projects will be managed, monitored and reviewed; and anticipated outputs or outcomes, if not specific targets.
- Where such action research is new to participants, specific training or awareness raising on action research should be carried out to ensure participants are clear about what it involves.
- It is recommended that dedicated time is given to project management of pilot or action research projects, particularly if several organisations are involved in delivering the projects
- A system of regular (quarterly or twice yearly) statistical returns to the Scottish Executive should be built into project agreements along with a formal review process at appropriate times that focuses on the project aims and objectives. The new national framework for monitoring money advice (Scottish Executive, 2006) helps to address this issue in relation to money advice services.
- Pilot projects should be innovative and experimental and so may be more liable to fail. Where there is the potential that a project looks set to fail to achieve outputs or deliver the services planned, it is recommended that there is a mechanism to develop alternative approaches or review the project overall. In view of the competing pressures that arise, we recommend that staff time spent on mainstream work is closely managed to ensure that development of the project retains priority.
- In the absence of dedicated project management, consultancy and evaluation functions should be separated to maintain clarity of roles.
- Developing projects involving hard-to-reach groups presents challenges and realistic targets or objectives are needed for both project delivery and evaluation.
- Where projects have a gate-keeping role, there should be clear processes agreed for research with service users that do not rely on projects selecting individuals for interview. This can arise where service policies on confidentiality prevent access to service user data.