The Money Advice Service (MAS), an independent organisation set up by government to provide advice on money matters to the general public, has launched a 12-week long consultation on debt advice standards in the UK. Following this consultation it intends to create a single framework for quality standards in the debt advice sector, which would apply to both free to use debt charities and to commercial debt management companies. The latter already have their own codes of practice such as the Code of Conduct of the Debt Managers Standards Association.
Compliance with the requirements of the new framework will be mandatory for all organisations who wish to receive MAS funding. The move is aimed at reassuring customers as to the service they will receive in the future.
MAS assumed responsibility for co-ordinating the debt advice sector in April 2012, and is seeking to improve the accessibility, quality and consistency of advice.
A survey by the Money Advice Trust, a charity which operates the National Debtline service, has previously found widespread differences in how debt advice is delivered and regulated across different organisations.
MAS has three principles which it sees as key to the new framework: being receptive to client needs, demonstrating strong governance and promoting reflective and on-going learning.
The new framework is likely to require role profiles of debt advisers to be much clearer, and to set minimum standards for skills, knowledge and competencies for staff working in the sector.
After the consultation, MAS will finalise the new framework, and from April 2014, organisations which receive funding from MAS will need to demonstrate that they are complying with its requirements. MAS will be able to accredit existing codes of practice and quality standards that meet the requirements of the framework.
Opinions are invited from the debt advice sector on the proposals, and comments can be made via the MAS website until March 15 2013. Alternatively views can be expressed at one of the consultation events MAS will hold across the UK in February 2013.
Caroline Siarkiewicz, Head of the UK Debt Advice programme at MAS, said:
“In the current economic climate, it is vital that debt advice is always of the highest quality. When people look for advice they need to know they can trust what they are hearing and that the right people, with the right training, are helping them. We have seen excellent practice in many parts of the country and today’s consultation is the start of a process to bring the standard across the whole country in line with that best practice.”
Responding to comments that commercial debt management companies already have their own codes of practice, Ms Siarkiewicz added:
“We are conscious the fee-charging sector has its own codes of practice. This framework is not to preclude them but we want them to look at our framework and map their existing standards against our framework.”