Publication - Research publication

Publicly-funded advice services in Scotland: review report

Published: 23 Feb 2018
Part of:

Review report from a Scottish Government-commissioned review of publicly-funded advice services in Scotland.

87 page PDF

996.6 kB

87 page PDF

996.6 kB

Publicly-funded advice services in Scotland: review report
Chapter 4: Recipients' experiences of funding

87 page PDF

996.6 kB

Chapter 4: Recipients' experiences of funding

Chapter Summary

This chapter discusses the impact of public funding for advice services from the perspective of advice providers. It also discusses the wider context of funding for advice services and the sustainability of current provision. This chapter also discusses the contribution of volunteers to advice services.

This chapter is informed by the literature, and also reflects the experiences and views of advice providers who participated in primary research via the stakeholder event, the online survey conducted as part of this study and follow up interviews.

Key findings highlighted are that:

  • advice providers rely, to a great extent, on public funding; using it as a lever to draw in (often significant amounts of) funding from other sources;
  • advice providers are concerned that funding for advice provision is decreasing and increasingly competitive;
  • demand for advice is growing, due in large part to changes to legislation, and advice providers are concerned that they will not have the capacity to meet this demand;
  • Short-term funding cycles are hindering both planning, and staff and knowledge retention within organisations;
  • More could be done to ensure that funding opportunities allow organisations to work collaboratively to meet unmet demand; and
  • volunteers play a key role in the delivery of advice services, but their recruitment and retention is challenging, and sustaining the level of input from volunteers that is required is not likely to be sustainable.


Beyond establishing the extent of public funding, this review sought to identify opportunities and challenges present in the current public funding landscape. This chapter is informed by the literature, and also reflects the experiences and views of advice providers who participated in primary research via the stakeholder event, the online survey conducted as part of this study and follow up interviews.

Additional sources of funding: the place of public funding

As illustrated in the previous chapter, advice providers receive a range of public funding, as well as funding from other sources. Other sources of funding commonly cited include contributions from charitable trusts, funding from commercial contracts, membership fees and private donations from individuals.

Survey respondents noted that receipt of public sector funding strengthened the case for funding from other sources, noting that, in many instances, they would not be able to leverage external funding if they did not have statutory funding in place.

".. has some dozen advice delivery streams, some of which are SG funded. The SG grant enables [organisation X] to create a brand, and develop quality standards, and gives confidence to other funders (which subsequently enables organisation x to lever in other funding)." (National advice service)

If it is the case that public funding supports advice providers to leverage additional funding from other sources, upon which they rely for their survival as an organisation, the reduction or withdrawal of public funding could, and almost certainly will, result in some advice services disappearing.

Additionally, a number of respondents in interviews highlighted the current difficulty in attracting external funding, particularly for money and welfare advice services, as strategic partners and charitable trusts are viewing advice in this area as being a core responsibility of government. Interview respondents suggested that existing funding from private sector and charitable trusts would not be available in future to deliver advice services that were connected to welfare rights.

"We don't know how we are going to make up the short fall. We are losing the funding from the Big Lottery - it is our biggest grant. And the funding from the council is under threat. I have no idea what will happen. Our main contact at the council has been made redundant. She really understood what we did, now I feel disconnected from what's going on." (Local advice provider)

"We can't attract private funding for welfare advice, it isn't sexy enough they [private sector] don't see it as their responsibility" (National advice provider)

This suggestion that non-public funding will be harder to attract in the future puts greater emphasis on the importance of reliable public funding for certain types of advice services. However, the available literature indicates that the demand for money, debt and welfare advice is expected to increase due to the continued effects of austerity and the on-going welfare reforms and planned devolution of aspects of the social security system (Burfeind et al. 2013; One Parent Families Scotland 2015; F. in C. Scotland 2015; Govanhill Housing Association 2015). Feedback from advice providers suggests that the capacity to offer advice to those in need is set to reduce as public funding is not perceived as being secure and it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure other sources of funding to provide money, debt and welfare advice.

The future of public funding for advice services

The pressures of increasing demand and the prospect of doing more with less is a common theme in the literature (Andersen 2016; Burfeind et al. 2013; The Improvement Service 2016). In interviews, third sector organisations suggested that cuts to public sector budgets are resulting in policy changes that are, or are likely to, drive demand for advice services and this issue is referred to in more detail in chapter 5. In addition to an anticipated increase in demand for service provision, advice providers report that public sector budget cuts have had a direct impact on their current ability to provide services.

For example, in their 2015 annual report, Shelter Scotland make reference to having to access their reserve funds, due to funding cuts, to ensure continued provision of their advice services (Shelter 2015); Granton Information Centre refers to cuts in funding making it impossible to invest in services (Granton Information Centre); and CAS refers to local-level funding issues resulting from Local Authority funding cuts and concentration by councils on statutory funding requirements at the expense of those which are not statutory, including advice.

Funding cycles

The public sector is currently working in a one-year spending review cycle. As such, awards and grants made to advice providers are generally made on an annual basis without guarantee of renewal. However, as part of this review, we did find some instances of longer term commitments of public funding to advice services.

Much of the literature and the evidence gathered through our primary research suggests that annual awards of funding cause challenges for many organisations. There is frequent reference to the short-term and project-based nature of funding becoming increasingly the norm, rather than core grants being made to organisations to support their delivery of a range of services.

In their study examining sustainable models of money advice services Gillespie & Dobbie (2009) note that "even three-yearly project funding does not give sufficient time to set up and deliver services. Innovative work is often not widely implemented at the end of projects, and services are lost along with the skills and of staff" (Gillespie & Dobbie 2009, p.26).

"The lack of long-term funding is always an issue as you are in danger each year of losing your most experienced and highly trained members of staff as they look for more job security. There is also more work to be done to ensure we can provide support to more people." (National advice provider in interview)

This was echoed by attendees at the Scottish Government information event, who also highlighted the detrimental impact on project delivery associated with short-term funding. Survey respondents and participants in the interviews also noted that short-term funding increased uncertainty, resulted in low staff morale and increased operational costs associated with staff retention and recruitment as well as having detrimental impacts on the quality of service provided to users.

It is unlikely that the spending review cycle will change in the foreseeable future, therefore public funders need to consider how their future approach to funding can support stability in the advice sector.

Competition for funding

In addition to the challenges associated with shorter-term funding, feedback from survey respondents suggests that there is significant competition for funding. Respondents suggest that the competition is for policy-led grants and feedback indicates that this is the area where there is most potential for duplication.

"..because the funding is headline driven, a need isn't reported - it is created. Comes back to chasing the funding, rather than the advice sector going to the funders to say, look these are the issues, this is the provision, here are the challenges, this is what is required. I know we can't get what we ask for but the decision making is the wrong way round, it isn't based on evidence. And it comes back to collaboration, the current funding methods work against elements of collaboration." (Interview with national advice provider)

This issue of competition is also evident in the literature. For example, Gillespie & Dobbie (2009) note that advice centres are routinely in competition for funding with each other. They highlight concerns raised by advice providers related to the time and resources allocated to preparing applications for funding, and the observation that those organisations that prepare the best bids may not in fact be best placed to provide the required advice (Gillespie & Dobbie 2009, p26). This concern was also raised in an interview with a survey respondent when asked about opportunities for collaboration.

"Yes, absolutely we want to collaborate but ultimately organisations are driven by a desire to stay alive, this means chasing funding, even when it might not be what users need or the advice service specialises in." (National advice provider)

A review of disability services (Andersen 2016) also suggests that the competitive nature of funding awards impedes collaboration, and results in a lack of co-ordination of services. It is important to note that the focus of this finding relates specifically to the situation facing disability organisations. However, the notion that competitive funding creates the conditions for duplication and impedes collaboration was a theme raised consistently at the Scottish Government stakeholder event and in responses to our survey.

"We are chasing funding. Funding decisions should be driven on need, which would help us better meet the needs of people and make things simpler for everyone." (Interviewee)

"Just to reiterate that collaboration is so important, we need to all play to our strengths and think of the common good, what is good for the person needing advice. And the funding mechanisms need overhauled. Short-term funding isn't good for the people needing advice and support and it doesn't support an agile advice sector." (Interviewee)

Multiple funders

Another factor that advice providers contend with is the varying timescales and reporting arrangements associated with receipt of funding from multiple sources. The financial information contained in the various financial reports reviewed as part of this study, combined with the data provided as part of the primary research undertaken, highlight that it is common for providers of advice to receive funding from more than one source.

For example, survey respondents noted significant challenges in managing the varying reporting arrangements of different funders. Respondents welcomed the need for transparency, but noted that the bureaucratic burden of different reporting arrangements adversely impacted on service delivery. Likewise, the bureaucratic challenges associated with the requirements of different funders were a consistent theme raised by the various discussion groups at the Scottish Government stakeholder event. These ranged from challenges associated with multiple funding bids, to grants awarded by different departments in a single organisation.

"Providers spoke about the need to fill out multiple long application forms to get funding from multiple parts of the same organisation ( e.g. LAs). This is not strategic enough. There was an acknowledged need to co-ordinate this better." (Stakeholder event)

Challenges identified at the Scottish Government stakeholder event also related to the complexity of funding applications and the resource implications, particularly for smaller organisations, and concern that far too much time is spent on filling out long application forms .

"Providers spend too much time 'complying' and it makes it hard to look outward and provide advice services in the best way." (Stakeholder event)

Participants at the Scottish Government stakeholder event noted a preference for a common reporting and agreement process being put in place. They suggested that this could help ease bureaucracy, and noted that the focus of this reporting should be on outcomes and the difference made by services, rather than footfall, number of people seen, phones answered, etc. They felt that providers should be trusted to deliver the activities to achieve desired outcomes. However, it was recognised measuring some of the outcomes would be difficult. Participants at the Scottish Government stakeholder event echoed the findings from the online survey in relation to reporting requirements for funding.

"Requirements can range variably and this can be very inconsistent for similar projects which is time and resource exhaustive for many organisations. It was appreciated that there may well be framework restrictions for funders, however, the general consensus was that there is still scope for reporting processes to be simplified, such as adopting a common reporting process which contributes to consistency and will undoubtedly, reduce burdens for both funders and providers." (Stakeholder event)

"Increased resource required to service bureaucracy – ranging from tendering responses, contract data collection, quality of advice requirements, reports to a multiplicity of funders, etc" (Survey respondent)

Participants at the event suggested that the funding application process had a greater impact on smaller organisations.

"Smaller organisations, which can tailor to specific needs of the sector such as plugging the gap for a greater requirement for advice, for example, within a geographical location, struggle to compete with the larger more mainstream organisations when bidding for funding. The process for bidding for these can also be very time-exhaustive, especially for smaller organisations, which at most times, will inevitably lose a bid to a larger provider." (Stakeholder event)

Participants also highlighted that the constraints placed on funders, for example being able to fund one aspect of advice, created barriers to efficient service design and suggested that increased collaboration amongst funders would benefit the quality of advice on offer. This type of scenario was highlighted in interview by a local advice provider as an example of how funding can prevent advice needs being met.

"We have funding that we can only use to offer advice to certain categories of people, it makes explaining what we do complicated. You can get a certain type advice if you live in particular areas but you can't access the same range of advice if you live in a neighbouring area, even if you have the same needs and meet the criteria for clients that we offer advice to. It makes things difficult to understand for other organisations referring to us and of course for people who might need our services contacting us." (Interviewee local advice provider)

A key message from all discussion groups at the stakeholder event was the need to ensure that decisions to fund advice services were made in a way that created opportunities for increased and meaningful collaboration, rather than competition for funding. Additionally, feedback from the discussion groups emphasised the need to ensure that funding decisions were needs-led and involved input from service users.

From a policy making perspective, the varying methods of data collection associated with multiple funders of advice services can impact detrimentally on the evidence available to inform decision making. For example, prior studies note that inconsistencies in data collection hinder assessments of services and identifications of gaps and duplication of service (Gillespie & Dobbie 2009). Variations in reporting arrangements are also evident in other areas, for example, an evaluation of Housing Hubs operated by Local Authorities highlights the challenges associated with different IT systems and reporting mechanisms (Littlewood & IPSOS Mori 2012).

Public funders should maximise opportunities for uniformity by utilising the funder framework. Policy makers should do this on a consistent basis and they should work with advice providers to establish appropriate reporting mechanisms that demonstrate impact and allow for an assessment of need. A particular issue noted is that the impact of advice is not measured in a way that allows for the specific impact on particular communities to be quantified (Improvement Service 2014). Furthermore, interviewees noted the challenges around accurate reporting of its client group, noting it was challenging to capture complete information from users.

In support of this point, research by the Improvement Service found that there is a lack of consistency regarding definitions and recording of activities, outputs and outcomes, which makes it difficult to measure the impact of Local Authorities' annual investment in money advice services. Some councils do collect outcomes data and there is plenty of anecdotal and case study evidence, but it is not possible to provide aggregated estimates of the impact of money advice services because there is no consistent, Scotland-wide approach to performance management. The Improvement Service argues that, in a time of reduced resources and competing priorities, it is important that this situation is improved to ensure that the benefits of money advice are maximised and evidenced (Burfeind et al. 2013).

Contribution of volunteers to advice service delivery

As well as financial awards made through charitable donations, operational funds and private sector funding, advice services in the third sector are heavily supported by volunteer contributions, often in the form of volunteer advice workers. The contribution of volunteers is documented in a range of literature and beyond.

For example, prior research conducted by the Improvement Service and Money Advice Service suggests that for debt advice alone, CABx employed 132 advisors and supported 80 FTE volunteer advisors (Burfeind et al. 2013). The CAB network, organisations such as One Parent Families, Shelter and MacMillan all identify the contribution of volunteers to their advice services (Shelter 2015; Macmillan 2015; One Parent Families Scotland 2015).

The literature indicates that volunteers play a significant part in the delivery of advice services, for example, as generalist advisers in the CAB service where some 2400 volunteers give an average of seven hours per week. Citizens Advice Scotland has estimated the monetary value of this commitment is £10 million annually (source CAB Staffing, Funding and National Statistics 2015/16). Our survey data, and feedback received through interviews conducted during this research highlight the valuable contribution of volunteers. In addition, respondents highlighted the significant investment that is required to train and retain volunteers.

"It is important that we are able to invest, people choose to give up their time, they won't volunteer with us if we can't give them the right environment" (National advice provider offering online and telephone services).

"Support for volunteers is vital, e.g. they have employee counselling services for stressed staff. All of their systems are set up to support all staff – paid or voluntary. The increasing complexity does cost more to support" (National advice provider offering advice through remote and face to face channels)

Volunteer time is clearly a crucial component of the advice delivery model in Scotland, but it is also a further element of the model which has risks associated with it in relation to sustainability. Recent research undertaken by Volunteer Scotland suggests that overall levels of volunteering have been declining in Scotland, and that more and more is being asked of people who do volunteer (Harper, 2015). The shape of volunteering is also changing, with people looking to volunteer across a range of different organisations, rather than input regularly to one organisation. The research also highlights that a number of Scottish Government policies assume that people can and will do more to deliver public services locally, and questions whether this is sustainable (Harper 2015).

This was confirmed through some of the interviews we conducted, in which survey respondents noted that volunteers were no longer 'brand' loyal and were increasingly likely to move between organisations. One respondent also made specific mention of the transient nature of volunteers, particularly volunteers who were volunteering to gain skills and work experience during periods of study. With the sustainability of this model of delivery being questioned, this suggests the need for a collaborative approach across the sector, potentially with input from Volunteer Scotland and others to considering the future role of volunteering in the sector.