Publication - Research and analysis

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

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87 page PDF

996.6 kB

Publicly-funded advice services in Scotland: review report
Chapter 5: Drivers of need for advice services

87 page PDF

996.6 kB

Chapter 5: Drivers of need for advice services

Chapter Summary

This chapter sets out what the key drivers of need for publicly-funded advice services are and provides an overview of the characteristics of current users of advice services. It highlights, in particular, the role poverty, personal upheaval, and changes to public services and entitlements all play in driving the need for advice, and also identifies particular risk groups such as those with disabilities or long term health issues, families with lone parents, and elderly people reliant on pensions, amongst others.

The chapter also highlights the recommendations made in the prior literature regarding the actions required to tackle an identified growing demand for advice.

These recommendations focus on the need for more education and awareness so that advice seekers are empowered to seek advice and take required action before they reach crisis and to consider the potential for advice seeking at the point of policy development.


In this chapter we explore the drivers of need and what the implications are for the future of publicly-funded advice. We also give an overview of current advice service users, where this is available. The chapter draws on findings from the literature review, and our survey of advice providers.

The literature recognises that everyone is likely to need advice at some point (for example, consumer advice). However, some individuals are much more likely to require advice than others.

The literature gives clear and consistent insight into the main drivers of need for advice services, which are widely described as arising from an individual's personal circumstances – usually at key points in their life, and often arising from circumstances related to poverty, and need arising from substantive changes in policy, for example, the recent changes to welfare reform and the changing nature of state support.

Need arising from personal circumstances

The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion's evidence review on Advice, Support and Poverty (Gibbons & Foster 2014) observes that everyone is likely to require advice at some point, but it is clear that people in poverty are more likely to experience the types of problems where information, advice and support can make a real difference to their lives. In their report they discuss the drivers of need for advice services as falling into three broad categories:

1. Life events such as changes in household composition or material circumstances of households;
2. The changing nature of state support, economic and social policy decisions, and the operation of key markets including housing, energy and financial services; and,
3. Levels of human and social capital available to people in poverty.

The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion notes that these causes are individually important, but can also occur collectively which is likely to require a more significant intervention to provide assistance. While all households are likely to experience these changes at some point, households living in poverty are likely to find managing them more difficult. This is a result of a lack of financial and other resources such as skills and social networks, making households living in poverty more reliant on formal sources of information and advice.

The literature highlights that advice services, particularly money-related advice services, work with a broad range of users (Macmillan 2015; F. in C. Scotland 2015; One Parent Families Scotland 2015; Shelter 2015; Littler 2015; Parkinson & Buttrick 2015), and also suggests that a point of crisis or a significant change in circumstance is a common driver for people to access advice services. In Goode and Waring's research, 'crisis' is also noted as a key factor that compels men to access advice (Goode & Waring 2011), suggesting that men are likely to leave problems to escalate before seeking 'help'. Similarly, a study conducted by Citizens Advice, examining the information behaviours of self-employed people (Citizens Advice 2016), suggests that this group also do not tend to seek formal advice until they reach a crisis, often at the point of court involvement.

The theme of change and crisis as a driver for seeking advice is identified across much of the literature examined. Changes in circumstances as a result of accident, illness and disability combined with 'squeezed' incomes (as a result of under-employment, low wages and rising household costs) are also cited as contributing to the need for advice in an evaluation of the Financial Inclusion Service at the Royal Hospital for Sick Kids (Hopkins 2014). Coram (Stepchange 2014), for example, cites factors such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, an accident, deterioration in health, unemployment as well as challenges in entering employment or accessing higher education that present when 'coming of age' that lead people to seek rights advice, in this instance related to immigration.

Need arising from policy changes

Much of the literature refers to an increase in demand for advice services arising from recent changes to policy. Research commissioned by the Money Advice Service and the Improvement Service (Burfeind et al. 2013) identifies key drivers of demand as:

  • the impact of the recession, payday lending and other less affordable forms of credit provision;
  • high levels of poverty and inequality across Scotland, and
  • welfare reform, which is expected to be the biggest driver of demand.

This research notes that issues resulting from welfare reform will affect all areas of advice and that while money advice is the most obvious, people seeking money advice are likely to be in need of other forms of advice too. They, and others, note that an increase in payday loan debt is causing increasingly complex cases and additional casework for advisors (Clifford et al. 2014; Hartfree & Collard 2014); and that crisis-based intervention for clients takes up much of the resource going into advice provision.

A report by the Financial Inclusion Centre, examining the business case for debt advice provision for social landlords, highlights that social housing residents are more likely than the general population to be in the poorest income groups, face a higher probability of experiencing money problems and are less likely to be able to access fair and affordable financial services (Gibbons & Foster 2014). The report noted that the situation has been exacerbated by the current economic downturn, increased living costs and the current raft of welfare reforms.

The literature calls for policymakers to give greater consideration to the potential for advice needs at the policy development stage, so that the need for advice delivery at a point of crisis is reduced. For example, the funding framework, co-authored by the Scottish Government, SLAB, the Money Advice Service and the Improvement Service highlights the role of a needs assessment for planning purposes:

  • Engage with service users, advice providers and other stakeholders to assess key priorities, needs and client outcomes;
  • Review the current levels of demand for advice (using information from existing advice providers, e.g. number of clients, number of issues over a period of time);
  • Assess the potential unmet need for advice (persons not accessing advice services even though they would benefit from it) and defining target groups; and,
  • Undertake an Impact Assessment to understand how changes might affect different groups.

It is not clear from the literature examined as part of this review how frequently and consistently this framework is applied.

A reported consequence of the rise in demand for advice services seems to be a growth in the number of advice providing organisations. For example, Andersen (2016) cites an increase in providers of welfare advice as being directly related to the introduction of Welfare Reform measures since 2012. The paper observes that some providers noted a growing need, which they believed Citizens Advice Bureaux would not be able to meet. This was reported to be the case particularly for advice for disabled people who are likely to be hardest hit by welfare reforms and reducing incomes. Andersen also notes that the devolved aspects of the social security system will add an extra level of complexity that could prove challenging for service users and advice providers and further increase demand for advice services. The Annual Report of the Govanhill Housing Association (Govanhill Housing Association 2015) also suggests that the lack of capacity of the local Citizens Advice Bureaux coupled with the introduction of Welfare Reforms since 2012 acted as a key catalyst in its development of an advice service for its tenants.

Characteristics of advice users

The literature gives some sense of the key characteristics of advice users. These generally relate to circumstances ( e.g. employment type, change in life circumstance, separation, unemployment). Due to the range of data capture methods of service providers, and the methodologies employed in the varying research reports, there is little information about the experiences or needs of advice users with particular protected characteristics. For example, evaluations of NHS-based advice services do not or cannot always compare the demographic profile of those accessing advice services against the profile of patients/carers who may reasonably be expected to use the service.

In the Citizens Advice Scotland report 'Debt Advice in Scotland' (Dryburgh 2011), the key characteristics of debt clients are summarised as follows:

  • debt clients are more likely to be middle aged;
  • clients who are unemployed are likely to seek advice on debt;
  • debt clients are likely to live in a single adult household;
  • clients who are renting their home are more likely to seek debt advice;
  • the majority of debt clients are single; and,
  • clients with dependent children are more likely to seek advice on debt than those without children.

There are close parallels between this and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion's broader evidence review on Advice, Support and Poverty (Gibbons & Foster 2014), which draws on evidence from across a plethora of other research. This review notes the importance of the provision of information, advice and support services to people in poverty, in particular, and identifies those groups most likely to experience poverty (and therefore most likely to need advice services) as:

  • people in receipt of out of work benefits, particularly those living in workless households;
  • families with children, especially lone parents;
  • pensioner households;
  • minority ethnic groups, and asylum seekers in particular;
  • people with long-term limiting health, including mental health, conditions;
  • people with disabilities;
  • young people (under age 25), particularly those aged 16-18 who are not in education, employment or training; and
  • ex-offenders.

However, this report also notes that there can be wide variation of experiences within each of these groups.

The Improvement Service and the Money Advice Service report that minority ethnic groups are accessing money advice services disproportionately more than those who identify themselves as white (Improvement Service 2015). They note that people with a disability are also disproportionately high users of money advice services (40% of money advice users, despite comprising only 20% of the overall population). Both of these groups are commonly recognised to be 'hard to reach', suggesting that the advice services are relatively effective in their targeting.

Current target audiences

Through our survey of publicly-funded advice providers in Scotland, we also sought to determine who responding organisations currently target their advice services at. Figure 5.1 below, drawn from our survey data, gives an overview of the main user groups targeted by the responding organisations' advice services. Figure 5.1 shows that carers are the group most targeted by survey respondents (61%), followed by disabled people (50%) and older people. At the other end of the scale, only 18% of respondents advised that they target recent immigrants and a slightly higher percentage (21%) reported actively targeting LGBTI people.

Figure 5.1 Overview of the main user groups targeted by the responding organisations' advice services (n=38)
Figure 5.1 Overview of the main user groups targeted by the responding organisations' advice services (n=38)

The survey findings reflect the contention in the literature, noted in the previous section, that those in need of advice services are those with the most vulnerable personal circumstances. 'Other' target user groups identified by survey respondents include:

  • separated fathers;
  • people in recovery from substance abuse;
  • children and families affected by imprisonment;
  • single parents;
  • families with children or young people who have a learning difficulty;
  • pregnant women and families with young children; and,
  • small businesses and people who are self-employed.

Decisions taken by organisations in relation to who to target their services at could also be influenced by the type of funding that is available to them. We know, for example, that substantial Scottish Government funding has gone into supporting carers in recent years. However, the literature does not highlight any concerns that this support is not needed and, as noted above, the profile of target audiences of existing advice providers mirrors the evidence in the literature of those most likely to need advice.

Current unmet need

Publicly-funded advice providers consulted during this research advised us that they collaborate with a range of partners to meet client needs, in order to ensure that appropriate referrals can be made and hard to reach audiences can be targeted. However, a consistent message coming through both the literature and primary review conducted as part of this research is that there is unmet demand (Sandback 2011; Naven & Egan 2013). Advice providers report unanswered calls and waiting lists for advice as indicators of this (Carers UK 2015). Additionally, advice providers advise that much of the unmet need will be unknown as people are either unaware that the advice exists or are unable to access the advice due to the barriers they face.

For example, in relation to money advice specifically, the Money Advice Service/Improvement Service research highlights the issue of unmet need and its distinction from any increased demand resulting from welfare reform. It concluded that evidence of what works best to do so is lacking. It reports that targeting support to specific groups along with dedicated resources is an area for improvement across the money advice sector (Burfeind et al. 2013). Whilst there is currently some targeted support to certain client groups the report concluded that there are not enough robust targeting approaches (with associated performance objectives and measurement).

The Money Advice Service also identified the need for further research to establish the experiences and needs of people needing financial advice living in rural locations. Noting, for example, that older people are less likely to use online banking methods and this may translate to exclusion from some sources of advice (Money Advice Service 2016). This suggests factors such as rurality and channel preference should be considered in the design of and funding decisions for future advice services.

There is insufficient literature articulating need across the wider advice sector currently, which makes it challenging to draw specific conclusions in respect of unmet need at this time.

Implications of these demand drivers for the advice sector

The literature suggests a number of ways in which the challenges of meeting current and growing demand should be addressed. In its Advice, Support and Poverty report (Gibbons & Foster 2014), the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion calls for local public sector commissioners to conduct audits of the extent of current provision, and provide an assessment and develop strategic plans for local service. In Scotland, this would be undertaken by local Community Planning Partnerships.

The challenge to advice providers of clients first presenting at crisis point is well documented in the literature and elsewhere in this report – and is recognised to put pressure on already constrained resources. Prevention, early intervention and education are commonly cited as the most effective way of addressing this issue. The literature suggests a more joined-up, effective approach to early intervention and prevention is required. A report by the Financial Inclusion Centre, for example, found that recipients of advice reported that they believed in future they would seek advice at an earlier stage, thereby accessing appropriate support before a crisis point (Evans & McAteer 2011) (p44).

In their longitudinal study of living with debt after advice Atfield et al (2016) recommended that policy-makers focus more attention on measures that prevent debt problems arising in the first place (such as low wages, social security and health) and highlight the importance of financial education to prevent people becoming indebted. Based on the experience of people who have been in debt and sought advice they suggest that there should be more emphasis on basic messages:

  • Know your means and live within them – but if your income cannot meet your essential bills, seek help from the right people;
  • Some organisations will 'sell' you money, but the price can be high – every penny you borrow has to be repaid, plus interest;
  • Never, ever, try to borrow your way out of debt;
  • No one needs more than one credit card;
  • One loan at a time – repay one before you take out another; and,
  • Secured loans are a bad idea.

Likewise, the Christie Commission advocates "prioritising preventative measures to reduce demand and lessen inequalities," and providing services that treat the root cause of problems, rather than treating the symptoms.

SLAB recommends that stakeholders are brought together for an identified area of law (perhaps starting with family law issues), to discuss how a preventative approach could be implemented in that area (Scottish Legal Aid Board 2014). The Money Advice Service also reported that a greater emphasis on prevention and early intervention could help to manage increasing demand, but notes that many service providers are unsure how they will manage increasing demand along with a move towards more preventative approaches (Burfeind et al. 2013).

The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion's 2014 evidence review on advice, support and poverty (Gibbons & Foster 2014) cites the 2013 Baring Foundation's report to emphasise the importance of ensuring that clients are provided with capabilities through the advice process so that they are better placed to resolve problems themselves in future or to identify these earlier. The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion also emphasises that people who may need advice are often not aware of the help that is available to them, and that attempts have been made to address this problem through embedding advice in core services, and pro-actively identifying users who may require advice and support. Examples are given of projects in England and Wales that have taken this approach, and some reference is made to co-location of services in the U.S.A successfully addressing these issues.

The Money Advice Service, in its 2015 Financial Capability in Scotland Report (Money Advice Service 2016) notes in its conclusions that, whilst across the population as a whole skills and knowledge seem less of a barrier than motivation, there are pockets of low skill which need to be addressed. In its impact report 2014/15 (Money Advice Scotland 2015) Money Advice Scotland describes the introduction of its e-learning module, funded by the Money Advice Service, which comprises learning on topics such as budgeting and financial planning, saving and borrowing, insurance and a range of other issues. The impact of the module is not yet known, but the module fits in well with the notion of developing capabilities and a focus on prevention.

An evaluation of the Financial Inclusion Service at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children highlights that many parents were unaware of their rights, particularly in relation to welfare entitlement, noting that the pro-active nature of that advice service was of particular benefit (Hopkins 2014).

A review of debt advice services to tenants of social landlords found that past users felt more confident in tackling future money worries themselves and importantly, that they would seek advice as soon as they felt it was required (Evans & McAteer 2011).


Balancing increasing demand with the squeeze on funding available will be the biggest challenge facing the publicly-funded advice sector in future. The importance of working collaboratively and increasing efficiencies in the way they work, funding more intelligently, and focusing on preventative measures will be more important than ever before. In highlighting these demand drivers, the literature makes a range of recommendations in relation to meeting needs:

  • Greater emphasis on early intervention and prevention work, to stop people reaching crisis point and requiring more significant support from advice providers later. Crisis-based intervention for clients takes up the most resource, therefore addressing advice needs at an earlier stage is crucial;
  • Targeting support to specific groups along with dedicated resources is an area for improvement across the money advice sector. Currently some targeted support is given to certain client groups, but there are not enough robust targeting approaches (with associated performance objectives and measurement);
  • Equality impact assessments should be conducted by Government when introducing changes to policies and delivery arrangements that assess the impact on people in poverty. Policymakers should assess the need for advice requirements associated with new policies or changes to existing policy. Regulators of key markets, including energy and financial services, should also undertake this sort of assessment, as they may also have significant impact on people in poverty;
  • Sharing best practice in relation to managing demand is critical – including understanding what works best to identify current unmet need;
  • Additional resources to enable more pro-active targeting of unmet need is required; and,
  • Examining the increase in need itself, and capturing the lessons learned about why policy changes are reported to have had such significant impact on the level of need, to inform future policy development.