Money Advice Trust chief executive Joanna Elson OBE on the charity’s response to Coronavirus, and how we are continuing our services while protecting our people.
As we approach the end of another challenging week, I wanted to share an update on the steps we are taking here at the Money Advice Trust to respond to the unprecedented crisis the country is facing as a result of Covid-19. Our priority from the very beginning has been continuing our services to the greatest extent possible, while of course protecting our people – at a time when we know the debt advice and training we provide is needed more than ever.
Our first week of working from home
I am proud to say that all Money Advice Trust staff – including all National Debtline and Business Debtline advisers – are now ending their first full week of working from home, as a result of an extraordinary infrastructure project delivered – at pace – by our IT and Contact Centre teams. When this crisis is over we will all, no doubt, reflect on the contributions of many groups of heroes in the national effort to overcome Covid-19 – debt advisers not least amongst them – and we must remember to add IT professionals to that growing list.
Their achievement, with many others, in supporting all our staff through the switch working from home – have allowed us to offer a continuous service at both National Debtline and Business Debtline. As we made the transition, our frontline debt advisers are in many cases using their own laptops, PCs and other equipment as temporary measures while we procure and distribute the longer-term infrastructure needed.
There are some extraordinary and quite heroic tales as advisers ‘made do’ as best they could through the transition to working from home – including one adviser leaning (safely, I’m sure!) out of a window to get a signal to take calls. To anyone who has visited our National Debtline and Business Debtline service up in Birmingham, this kind of commitment will not come as a surprise. Our advisers are at the heart of what we do and they have never worked harder nor gone further for our clients than they have in the last fortnight.
Helping households, small businesses and people in self-employment
We have been inundated with calls and visits to our websites in recent days, as our advisers continue to help people by phone and webchat. Callers, particularly those in self-employment, worrying about their jobs and income – reporting difficulty getting through to DWP and mortgage lenders, concerns about existing debts and real anxiety about how they will get through this incredibly volatile period. Our Business Debtline service is exceptionally busy, in particular. Our advisers have been helping as best we can – adapting our advice along the way to respond to the government’s many announcements and the new challenges people are dealing with.
Faced with extraordinary need for our services, we are quickly transitioning to new ways of working. While we do so, and while some of our staff deal with the personal impact of Coronavirus, our phone capacity has been slightly reduced in the short term – although we are very nearly back up to where we were before the switch.
However, we know that demand will only grow and serving this will continue to be a challenge. To address this, we are providing more support over webchat, through the digital advice tool and our websites. We have also published and are continuing to update new National Debtline and Business Debtline Coronavirus factsheets, which had 10,000 views in their first week.
We are also working closely with the Money and Pensions Service, our debt advice sector partners and funders to address the long term challenge that this new reality presents to our central task – making sure everyone in the UK in problem debt gets the advice they need.
Influencing the national Covid-19 policy response
During this fortnight we have been working hard to support and influence the Government’s Covid-19 policy response. Last Thursday, we published our joint Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity proposal for an urgent ‘Rescue Package’ for household finances from the Government – some measures we included in this have since been implemented, and on others we continue to press for action. We have also been reflecting back to Government the concerns we’ve heard on Business Debtline, along with recommendations to support people in self-employment – and in particular, the need for a dedicated hardship fund to support self-employed people until the new Income Support Scheme payments arrive in June.
Finding new ways to provide training
With a raft of new and unprecedented government initiatives announced in the last fortnight, we are mindful of how the advice that we and the sector gives needs to change and keep pace. Over the coming weeks, and as all our working patterns change, we are looking to deliver more e-learning and webinar style training across both Wiseradviser and our Money Advice Trust training & consultancy service. For example, the most recent session of our joint Vulnerability Academy with UK Finance was delivered last Friday online. The advice sector and creditor organisations that we work with are already responding positively to these changes, and we will be doing whatever we can to help them support their clients and customers through the months ahead.
An essential public service
Last week the Government designated debt advice services an ‘essential public service’ – and that’s exactly what we are, both in overcoming Covid-19 and in tackling financial difficulty more broadly. We will continue to use this blog to share the latest as we rise to this latest challenge – and in the meantime if you can support our work or would like to partner with us to make sure people get the help they need, please do get in touch.