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Public Financial Guidance Review: Proposal for consideration - Citizens Advice response

8 June 2016 Thomas Brooks

cover imageThis is the Citizens Advice response to the consultation on public financial guidance [ 0.87 mb].

In the last year local Citizens Advice helped people with 1.8 million queries about debt and personal finances. Through our financial skills programmes we also help people to avoid money problems and gain knowledge, skills and confidence with money. We are also a partner in the government’s Pension service, and have delivered over 40,000 face to face guidance sessions for consumers considering pension choices.

Our research on the Four Advice Gaps identified key gaps in provision of advice and guidance. The Financial Advice Market Review has taken welcome steps to address one of these - the affordable advice gap. This Public Financial Guidance Review presents an opportunity to address the other three gaps by helping more consumers access free support, with better referral mechanisms and meaningful outcomes.

Consumers are not currently getting the support they need, despite significant investment in debt advice, money advice and financial capability services both through a range of levies and directly from Government, local authorities and private organisations. Unsecured household debt is expected to rise to around £300 billion by 2020 and over 13 million UK adults find managing money difficult.

In this context, we welcome the government’s proposals for the new public financial guidance bodies. We have consistently supported efforts to get money to the front line, which is at the heart of the new approach to money guidance. And we share the government’s view that provision of pensions guidance through three separate bodies neither makes best use of resources nor provides optimal support to consumers.

Our evidence shows that both of the new guidance bodies must be designed around real consumer behaviours, needs and experiences. This approach must run through all elements of design to ensure that consumers engage, that they benefit from their interactions (with funding targets focusing on this) and that resources are not wasted. Without doing this the lessons from the Farnish Review may not be learned.

Two key messages for this review:

  • Money guidance providers must engage with consumers. The new body should engage consumers at key life events, when they are more likely to review their finances. Effective engagement will need to use local solutions and proactively take services to consumers. As part of this process, the new money guidance body should work with MAS to ensure that consumers receive uninterrupted support during the transition process.

  • Pension guidance must have a multichannel offer. Varied access is particularly important for pensions, where inertia is powerful. Our evidence shows that consumers benefit from being able to choose the channel they feel most confident with and that fits best with their daily lives. Over 75% of Pension Wise appointments have been face to face in the last six months.

In addition to the two key priorities above, the new bodies must also:

  • Engage with existing provision: We support the proposal’s emphasis on avoiding duplication, and the new bodies should build on what already exists. During the transition period they should also implement changes using the same approach - and not delay until 2018 - to ensure effective use of the levy funding.

  • Provide responsive guidance: The guidance bodies should ensure that digital tools are provided for consumers which can be used both during and outside sessions. The new pensions body should also allow consumers to access more than one appointment, particularly when their circumstances change.

  • Offer effective referrals: This includes effective warm handoffs, both between the pensions and money guidance bodies and with other service providers. The new bodies must also ensure that they collaborate and co-operate at all levels.

  • Use measurable outcomes: Rather than funding media campaigns, they must focus on measurable, local and targeted work. Distance travelled measures will promote meaningful projects and deliver value for money.

  • Work in all UK nations: Policy and research must reflect the different legislative, demographic and geographical profiles of all nations in the UK.

Citizens Advice delivers pension guidance on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), under the Pension Wise brand. This document reflects the views of Citizens Advice as a consumer advocate and not the views of Pension Wise or DWP.