Investment in Advice is Needed

Investment in Advice is Needed

31st May 2023

New report urges more investment in advice

31st May 2023

A new report has urged further investment in the advice sector, as Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) warns that failing to invest properly in advice will hurt the poorest and hold back economic growth in the years ahead.

The report of the Scottish Energy Insights and Coordination Group (SEIC) from statutory body Consumer Scotland recommends further investment in the energy advice sector.

The SEIC was convened by Consumer Scotland following the former First Minister’s energy summit in August 2022, held to support consumers and businesses facing rising energy prices.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is the national membership body for Scotland’s Citizens Advice network, which comprises of 59 CABs and the Extra Help Unit, a team of specialist energy case workers based in Glasgow dealing with vulnerable consumers on a referral basis. The network is the largest provider of free advice in Scotland.

Last year the CAB network helped more than 174,500 people with advice, unlocking £132 million in the process.

CAB cases are often complex, with people seeking help with multiple issues from the network’s wraparound service. Last year in one in five occasions people have needed food insecurity advice having needed further help having sought advice with utilities. In one in ten occasions they have needed crisis grant support from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

CAS Chief Executive Derek Mitchell said:

“This report is a timely and urgent intervention, which we dearly hope policymakers listen to.

“There is a real risk that failing to invest properly in advice, particularly the wraparound advice CABs give, will hurt the poorest and hold our economy back.

“CABs across Scotland are facing record demand for advice often with complex cases. Energy bill increases didn’t happen in a vacuum – they happened alongside and indeed drove record inflation and interest rates, leading to higher prices in the shops.

“Time and time again people are coming into CABs with an energy issue and ultimately need a food bank referral or crisis support. There is a clear and direct line between high energy bills and empty kitchen cupboards.

“Our worry is we see headlines about the price cap or inflation falling and policymakers may think this crisis is on its way to being over – it’s not. People, particularly the poorest, will be feeling the impact of this for years to come.

“There is a vicious cycle to this crisis – people’s incomes don’t match their bills so they fall into debt, which in turn reduces their income and increases their monthly outgoing. It’s a trap people can’t escape.

“Well funded advice can make a massive difference. The network helped over 174,500 people one to one last year, and a further 2.5 million people used our online advice pages.

“The results are staggering. CABs unlocked £132 million for people last year through things like social security payments, employment entitlements and debt reductions. One in six people who seek advice see a financial gain, the average value of which is over £4,200.

“That money is transformative when you are having to choose between heating the house of feeding your kids.

“The capability of our advisers is second to none – however our capacity to help could be so much greater with better, longer term, more secure funding.”