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Recruitment and Retention of Retained Fire Fighters (Report)

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Recruitment and Retention of Retained Fire Fighters (Report)

    ITEM CM6

    COMMUNITY SAFETY SCRUTINY

    COMMITTEE

    DEBT AND MONEY ADVICE

Membership

    Cllr Jenny Hannaby

    Cllr Charles Mathew

    Cllr Olive McIntosh Stedman

    Cllr Bill Service

Corporate Core

    Ref CM011

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    CM6 page 2

    CONTENTS

     Page

    1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 3

    2. INTRODUCTION 5

    3. BACKGROUND 7

    4. FINDINGS/ANALYSIS 11

    5. CONCLUSIONS 19

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    Community Safety Scrutiny Committee

    2 February 2009

    Debt and Money Advice

    1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    Why the review took place

    The Community Safety Scrutiny Committee appointed the Lead Group of Councillors to carry out this review because it was interested in exploring the range, quality and effectiveness of debt and money advice that is being provided by a host of different agencies across Oxfordshire. Oxfordshire County Council provides financial support to several agencies that offer debt and money advice and the impact of the recent “credit crunch” has seen an increase in the number of people seeking such advice. Consequently, this may put pressure on the funding sources for these services.

RECOMMENDATIONS

    The Committee:

    a) acknowledges the important part played by Citizens Advice

    Bureaux and other agencies in supporting the local economy

    during the recession and specifically in advising families who

    fall into debt; and

    b) commends to the Cabinet the adoption of a package of

    measures which will support and strengthen the current range

    of debt and money advice services provided in the county, as

    follows:

    1. To invite the relevant agencies to join together in supporting a

    consumer awareness campaign which:

    a) draws attention to the growing problems of household debt

    and financial exclusion in the county;

    b) warns of the dangers of illegal money lending; and

    c) highlights the range of debt and money advice services

    provided locally by the CAB and other agencies in the

    voluntary sector.

    2. To develop a more joined-up and sustainable approach to debt

    and money advice and better support to the various agencies by:

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    a) inviting provider agencies to enter into a Financial Inclusion

    Partnership with a brief to offer better public access to a

    comprehensive range of high quality debt and money advice

    services for local people;

    b) looking into the costs and practicalities of providing an on-line

    library style information hub that enables better access to

    information and facilitates a more assisted self-help service;

    and

    c) encouraging closer working links between the different

    agencies.

    3. To develop a corporate debt policy which as far as possible offers

    support to people who have fallen into debt, whilst maintaining

    collection rates, and to discuss with the City and District Councils

    their approach to debt management as the main creditors for a

    range of public service debts (such as council tax, rent, benefits

    etc).

    4. To support the initiative taken by the Money Advice Trust in the

    development of an accredited qualification nationally for debt and

    money advisers working in the voluntary sector as a way of

    quality assuring the service provided.

    5. To develop a financial literacy programme for schools and young

    people in consultation with the Children Young People & Families

    and Community Safety Directorates.

    6. To clarify with the Director of Social & Community Services the

    present arrangements for monitoring the benefit to the Council of

    the funding which it provides to advice services in Oxfordshire.

    7. To enter into a protocol with Birmingham City Council to enable

    the Council to make use of its Illegal Money Lending Unit where

    necessary in enforcing consumer and credit legislation.

Notes:

    Recommendation 5: subject to consultation with the Cabinet Members for Schools Improvement and Children, Young People & Families.

    Recommendation 6: subject to consultation with the Director for Social & Community Services

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2. INTRODUCTION

The issues explored

    The Lead Group and the scrutiny review officer undertook desk-based secondary research, primary research through consultations, face-to-face interviews, Member meetings and conducted site visits. Through these means, we identified themes that the Review wished to explore in more detail:

    ; Communication: The relationship between the agencies providing debt

    and money advice and the local authority, including how partnerships

    between the two could be developed in the interests of providing a more

    transparent and effective service.

; Information technology and access to services: Benefits of new

    information technology including that which was being trialled at an advice

    centre in Oxford to help particular groups who were not accessing advice

    services. We also wanted to enable better access to debt and money

    advice and to find ways to overcome the discrepancies in accessing

    services between those living in urban areas and rural villages.

    ; Premises: Concerns raised by voluntary groups about premises used to

    provide debt and money advice. The Lead Member Group wanted to

    explore these concerns further.

; Checks and balances: Research identified agencies in the public,

    voluntary and private sectors that offered debt and money advice. The

    Oxfordshire Trading Standards Service was aware that some people may

    not have received the best advice, be it from the voluntary sector agencies,

    the fee charging private sector agencies or credit card companies. Hence,

    the Members wished to explore the consistency and quality of advice that

    was being provided, the training for advisers, and agencies‟ internal quality

    assurance checks.

    ; Funding: County Council funding of CAB and advice centres for 2008/09

    involved a commitment of ?431,280 by Social & Community Services.

    This included funding for Age Concern, provision for Benefit Advice

    Workers and „Phonelink; Banbury Benefits Project, Berinsfield Information

    and Volunteer Centre, Blackbird Leys Good Neighbour Scheme, the

    Oxfordshire Chinese Community and Advice Centre, Rose Hill and

    Donnington Advice Centre, Oxfordshire Work Agency including Barton

    Advice Centre, and the Oxford and West Oxfordshire CABs. The need for

    checks and balances applies particularly to those agencies that the County

    Council directly supports. (That support includes some provision for live

    telephone advice, supply of leaflets and training required on relevant

    legislation from Trading Standards).

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    The Lead Member Group was satisfied that in undertaking its investigations according to its project plan, all of the above themes were comprehensively explored.

    Before commencing the review process, we noted that the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Agency (Department for Enterprise, Trade & Industry) had carried out a review that resulted in a third party being contracted to provide financial and debt advice to residents. There are other models, such as in some of the Scottish local authorities, where Trading Standards‟ departments often have their own debt and money advice services. We did some research on these models to assess what lessons, if any, we could take from them.

    Little was known about where and when bad advice occurred and what impact illegal money lending had on the client groups served by the debt and money advice agencies in Oxfordshire. This issue was relatively unexplored and the Lead Member Group was keen to do more research.

All of the issues that Members wished to investigate and the activities that

    they were involved in were focused on identifying ways in which the relationship between the County Council and debt advice providers could be developed effectively.

Methodology

    The Lead Member Group gathered a range of evidence from various sources as outlined above and in the following sections we explain in more detail the background to this work, its findings and the analysis, conclusions and proposed options for development.

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3. BACKGROUND

    The topic under investigation matched with the County Council‟s objectives to the extent that it addressed the corporate priority, “Healthy and Thriving Communities” which is also a priority of the Sustainable Community Strategy along with another priority of the Strategy, “Breaking the Cycle of Deprivation”.

    There has been considerable public interest in the issue, as indicated in recent media coverage. For instance, simultaneous with the commencement of the review, the Local Government Association “First” included an article “Council support as credit crunch bites” and the Local Government Chronicle included a two page feature on local authority debt advice services. Other useful references included the aforementioned review by the Northern Ireland Trading Standards Agency (DETI) that resulted in debt and money advice being contracted out to a third party, awareness of the expanding number of agencies offering debt and money advice (both for free and for a fee), together with evidence of a higher incidence of people seeking such advice over recent months. Britain‟s personal debt level has been increasing at a rapid rate and current trends nationally relating to people‟s indebtedness

    are a major cause for concern.

    Figures illustrate (next page) how the consumer credit boom of the last decade, characterised by easy access to cheap credit and by people taking on more debt has “turned sour” for many. Personal debt can be a

    consequence of a wide range of factors including unemployment, bereavement, mortgage repayments, increasing energy bills and family break-up. We have explored the methods that are being used by a range of key agencies in the private, public and voluntary (third) sectors to address the problem.

The National Context

    This report does not attempt to understand or identify all the factors that have given rise to the recent debt problems in the County, and in the time available, it was not possible to cover all the agencies and support groups who deal with debt. Nevertheless, the report does provide a broad evidence-based insight into the current situation nationally and in Oxfordshire.

    Drawing on some of the commentary later on in this report about the nature of debt and, as discussed in some of our case studies and good practice, a number of broad observations and definitions are provided:

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    The Scale of the Problem

    ; Personal debt transcends social, geographic & economic

    boundaries. Nevertheless, people on lower incomes are more

    likely to be at risk.

    ; Debt has an impact on mental health; according to “Mind”, half of

    the people affected by debt have mental health issues and one-

    third of all people with mental health problems are in debt. Mind

    has produced a booklet on managing personal finances which

    includes self-help tools and “signposts” to other agencies that

    can provide help.

    ; There are 2 types of debt: debt secured against an asset (eg a

    mortgage) and unsecured debt (eg credit cards, retail finance

    deals, overdrafts, unsecured personal loans). With respect to

    credit cards, latest annual figures show that in the UK we borrow

    twice as much per head on them as the rest of Europe. Personal

    debt has almost quadrupled from approximately ?400bn in 1993,

    to ?1,450 bn in 2008.

    ; There has been a four fold increase in the use of credit cards,

    per second, since this time (December 2008) last year.

    ; Average household debt in the UK is ?9,633 (excluding

    mortgages) and increases to ?21,952 if the average is based on

    the number of households who have some form of unsecured

    loan.

    ; Average household debt in the UK is ?59,630 (including

    mortgages) (All statistics - Credit Action December 2008).

    The Provider Agencies

    Several agencies provide financial support for or directly deliver debt and

    money advice across the UK. These include:

; The Department of Trade and Industry (now the Department for

    Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) which has very recently

    granted additional funding over two years to increase the supply of free,

    face-to-face money advice across England and Wales via several

    agencies. The original commitment was ?45 million in 2004 and has

    increased to an estimate of ?85 million through until April 2011.

    ; Advice UK which has been awarded ?5.75 by the Big Lottery fund to

    fund a 30 month project called Working Together for Advice.

    ; The Legal Services Commission (LSC) which received ?6 million to

    pilot methods of money advice outreach. Over 8,000 people have been

    advised, the vast majority of whom are financially excluded. The

    Access to Justice Act gave rise to the Community Legal Service and

    the subsequent development of a national network of quality marked

    advice organisations.

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    ; National Debtline (ND), a „phone line advice service, to which people in

    Oxfordshire have access, helps approximately 4,500 people a month

    nationally.

    ; Legal Aid (LA): the focus of support for those people who are eligible

    for Legal Aid (via the Legal Services Commission) has undergone

    some changes since the creation of the Community Legal Service in

    2000. The Access to Justice Act extended the provision of Legal Aid to

    both the private and not-for-profit sectors. The LSC has reduced the

    number of contracts with not-for-profit organisations (whom it deems to

    be „preferred suppliers‟) and increased the targets required. It is now

    considered cheaper by the LSC to contract with the private sector.

    ; Citizen‟s Advice (CAB) - nationally, the Citizen‟s Advice Bureau is

    largely funded through the Legal Services Commission, County

    Councils and other local authorities. Like other advice agencies, data

    has revealed a sharp increase in demand at CAB‟s nationwide.

    ; Credit Unions (CU) as provided for by the Credit Unions Act 1979

    and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. A Credit Union

    member saves in the form of shares in the Credit Union. These savings

    then provide a fund from which loans are made to members “for

    provident or productive purposes”. The interest charged on loans,

    (which by law may not exceed a rate of 2% per month) pays for the

    running costs, and members may receive a dividend on their share.

    ; Commercial Loan Organisations: By contrast large commercial loan

    organisations often levy anything, as evidence indicates, from 177% to

    800% APR. Doorstep borrowing is seen as a big problem and a key

    priority for Credit Unions and others is to educate people into thinking

    more about „affordable‟ credit.

    ; Housing Associations (HA) provide a vital welfare service and

    increasingly they are linking up with CABs and credit unions.

    ; Financial Inclusion Partnerships (FIP). In some areas Citizen‟s Advice

    Bureaux have linked up with credit unions and other agencies to

    support “Financial Inclusion Partnerships”. These are discussed in

    some detail later on.

The Oxfordshire context

    Our analysis of a wide range of background material indicated that locally, there are numerous voluntary sector/not-for-profit and fee charging agencies offering debt and money advice in a range of ways. Those that we have been able to identify and in some instances from whom we received first hand evidence, are listed in Annex 1.

    The Citizen‟s Advice Bureau is probably the most widely known and used provider of debt and money advice. Bureaux are characterised by small numbers of volunteer staff and part-time staff who undergo training leading to a recognised qualification (generally, it is the CAB Certificate in general advice). Some will go on to do more specialist training and qualifications in debt advice. (An additional reference to the recently formed “CAB

    Oxfordshire” will follow in the final report).

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    Typically funding is from the District and County Councils and from a wide variety of other sources including lottery grants and money that is gained by contracting to provide specific services for specific users.

    Statistical returns indicate that “debt advice is the prevalent issue” dealt with at the CABs. There is a wide range of debt types, some of the consequences having been identified earlier in the report (p7) and including rent/mortgage arrears, court fines, benefit overpayment, utilities, Council Tax, non-priority debts, credit cards, loans, hire purchase etc.

The Oxford Advice Centres‟ Forum referred to in Annex 1, provides a useful

    overview of the debt and money advice provision in Oxford city. All of the centres under its aegis are experiencing a growth in demand for debt and money advice; there is no provision for such advice in some areas of the city, notably Cutteslowe and Wood Farm. This is reflected in other areas of the County as the Lead Member Group noted that Abingdon CAB reports a lack of local solicitors offering Legal Services Commission services. West Oxfordshire CAB reports that there is only one local solicitor with a family law contract under which free debt and money advice might be offered.

    The Forum is a voluntary organisation with no financial resources but it recognises that all of the advice centres it covers rely on financial support, have very tight budgets, and experience difficulties in securing their funding. Most of the centres in the Forum have the Community Legal Services Quality Mark.

    A brief overview of the training regimes for advisers and referral processes for the Oxfordshire advice agencies and the district councils is provided in Annex

    2.

    With respect to training and qualifications and as briefly alluded to elsewhere, there is a different model in Scottish local authorities where Trading Standards often have their own debt and money advice services; this is attributable to the qualification route in Trading Standards in Scotland which includes a more substantive element of debt and money advice training. There is an acknowledged NVQ qualification route to become a money adviser. Training and qualifications are areas that the review wished to explore in more detail with a view to making recommendations that can apply to Oxfordshire.

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