I am optimistic about the help we do and will continue to provide to millions of customers. More people than ever before are using the service – over 2.5 million used our website, phoneline, webchat and face-to-face service between April and June 2013.
Furthermore, almost 80 per cent of customers say that they are taking action on the basis of the advice they have received from us, and our customer satisfaction scores are higher than they have been before, with over 90 per cent of people saying they will return to the service and that they would recommend it.
Meanwhile, the debt advice partners we fund with £30m – including £23m to Citizens Advice – helped over 150,000 people in 2012/13 and are on course to do so again this year. That’s a 50 per cent increase in the number of people helped, with the same funding, compared to 2011/12, the last year before we took over oversight and funding of the sector.
But we are certainly not complacent. We have turned a corner but the road ahead is long. Our recent Financial Capability report highlighted how half the adult population is struggling to pay bills and meet credit commitments. Over 40 per cent of adults would have to think about how to pay an unexpected £300 bill. And there are worrying trends in people’s financial skills and attitudes towards money, with over 15 per cent unable to understand a bank statement and around 20 per cent saying they’d take £200 now rather than wait two months and receive £400.
There is a massive task for us, working together with partners across all sectors involved in financial capability, to help people understand their finances more and make the most of their money.
So the priority for us this year is the development of a long term strategy to which everyone can sign up, which will set out a way forward for improving the financial wellbeing of people right across the UK. We’ve been listening to partners, collecting evidence on what works in terms of helping people manage their money. We now need to pull together the strategy working with the many different organisations and individuals across the sector and making the most of the combined wealth of experience.
I talk a lot about partnership because I am committed to this approach. The Service does not seek to compete with anyone in the sector, offering paid-for or free advice (such as Citizens Advice), but to complement what is already in the market, signposting customers to others, just as other organisations signpost to us. That includes IFAs.
Since I took up my position here at the Money Advice Service I have met a number of IFAs and IFA organisations. We’re working with various representatives in the regulated advice sector to agree how and when to refer customers to paid-for advice which we cannot provide ourselves.
Consumers are at the heart of everything we do. We must work hard and fast to close the advice gap which still stands at around 19m people. So my priority is to help people get the money advice they need, whenever and wherever they need it, whether it is direct from us or via other experts. I hope this is a shared goal which everyone, including the financial advice community, can sign up to.
Caroline Rookes is chief executive of the Money Advice Service.