Description of the programme
Three debt advice programmes were evaluated. They were:
Pennysmart – a small social enterprise based in Flintshire, with approximately 30-40 users per month. The service is designed to provide advice to vulnerable individuals who are referred to the service by the social housing sector, charitable trusts, local authorities and community facing organisations. A telephone advice service and casework support is offered, combining debt advice and financial capability. Before reaching a debt solution, Pennysmart will work with their clients to establish control of their money, ensuring they are less likely to re-enter debt in the future.
CAP (Christians Against Poverty) – CAP is a charity with over 700 employees. It offers debt advice services to vulnerable individuals who may be experiencing additional problems, such as mental health issues or relationship complications. Their provision includes a befriending service and spiritual support along with debt and financial capability advice. Three home visits are conducted, helping with budgeting, priority payments, maximising income, savings if possible and making financial decisions. CAP works with the client throughout the process to develop their confidence to manage their own finances.
National Debtline – National Debtline is delivered by the Money Advice Trust and is a large national service that offers independent debt and money management advice by telephone and online to hundreds of thousands of individuals per year. They aim to integrate financial capability support and training into their debt advice service, while helping clients improve their current situation by maximising income and increasing financial confidence and understanding.
This 2020 evaluation from IFF Research and commissioned by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) aims to assess the impact of interventions that seek to improve financial capability among clients experiencing problem debt. A theory-based mixed methods approach was employed:
- Between the three organisations, 475 baseline surveys were carried out by telephone or online at the start for the intervention.
- The follow up surveys were completed six months after the baseline, with a total of 237 responses.
- A total of 30 qualitative baseline interviews were conducted, with ten clients from each organisation.
- There were 35 follow-up interviews conducted after six months. They were primarily the same people as interviewed at the baseline, but also comprised some people from the baseline quantitative surveys, to ensure the desired number of interviews was achieved.
- As part of the process evaluation, five interviews and four focus groups were conducted with frontline staff.
Survey responses were weighted within each organisation to be representative of their client population.
- While the three organisations offered slightly different services, all three organisations showed positive results across a range of outcomes.
- The client surveys showed significant improvements in the extent to which clients had a plan for repaying their debt, and the extent to which they understood the necessary next steps.
- Financial capability and debt management outcomes are ‘mutually reinforcing’, with the qualitative interviews showing that for many an improved understanding of their situation led to increased feelings of control and financial confidence.
- Some groups of participants fared better than others. Clients who reported receiving financial capability support as part of the service generally reported better outcomes than those who did not.
- The organisations were successful in tailoring their services to the individuals they worked with and ensured positive outcomes across a range of client groups. However, there was some evidence that unemployed people and those in rented accommodation had fewer opportunities and limited flexibility to improve their own situation.
- The ability to have multiple appointments was important to avoid overwhelming clients with information. The online resources were particularly helpful when used in tandem with the in-person support.
- A flexible and tailored approach to delivering financial capability support was seen as important in helping clients to engage with it.
- Reassurance and support to communicate with creditors was also seen as a key element in increasing both client confidence and their ability to tackle debt issues in the future.
- However, the findings suggested that there may be more opportunities to help clients increase their income.
- The report also found that organisations could do more to ensure that advisers provide memorable financial capability support consistently to clients, as some clients did not remember receiving it and those that did were more likely to have outcomes.
Points to consider
Methodological strengths/weaknesses: Survey data was weighted to be representative of the client population, and findings were tested for statistical significance. We can therefore have confidence in the results despite some small sample sizes.
Generalisability/ transferability: The evaluation is of significant interest to those looking to commission or deliver debt advice interventions among financially vulnerable people.
Relevance: While the findings appear to be robust, further evidence/triangulation may be needed before using the findings reported here as a basis for scaling up/informing future interventions.