Of all the organisations touting money or legal advice on the internet, Gary Vaux finds one that should be everybody’s first port of call
Here’s a quiz for you: a family you are dealing with have debt problems and they have told you that they have considered approaching the following organisations for help:
● Debt Advisory Centre.
● National Debt Relief.
● National Debtline.
● CCCS Debt Remedy Service.
● Debt Advice Trust.
● Debt Advice Network.
● Debt Advice Foundation.
Which do you suggest they deal with? They all sound plausible, don’t they? All seem very “cuddly”, user-friendly and non-commercial. Some even use close variations of the old legal aid logo of two “stick-people” at a table.
The above names were taken from the first 10 hits (out of 25million) when “debt advice” is typed into a search engine. Which are charities? Which are independent? Which are fronts for commercial companies more interested in selling consolidation loans or taking fees for setting up agreements to repay creditors? Which offer a free service? And how can you spot which is which?
Access to free, face-to-face money and legal advice should be easier after the launch of the Money Advice Map (MAM) by Credit Action, the national money education charity.
Incorporating multiple advice agencies, the MAM is a new internet search facility to help people find their nearest money or legal advice centre. As well as directing individuals to the nearest agency, the MAM will also provide information on the centre’s services, opening hours, and eligibility criteria.
With many people paying for money or debt advice because they are unaware that there are free alternatives, the MAM will be invaluable in helping struggling service users access independent, free and quality advice locally.
The truth is that commercial operators have the budget to advertise and market their services (including the ability to buy their way to the top of the list in search engines). Charities, on the other hand, are more likely to rely on word of mouth and local awareness. The MAM will enable people to know what sources of free help and advice are available locally.
This sort of guidance on where to find information is more important than ever, as more families and individuals get internet access. The government’s Home Access Grant scheme has already delivered nearly 100,000 PCs to low-income families since January, for example, and the growing network of UK Online centres (phone 0800 771234) is being used by Jobcentre Plus to keep in touch with jobseekers, as well as having many other uses (social, educational, vocational and personal).
But getting people online should not be an end in itself, because we could end up simply making it easier for people to be given misinformation, misdirection and confused messages about where to find help and advice. Being able to discriminate between sources of information is just as important as being able to use e-mail or set up a Facebook account.
The answer to the quiz? Sorry – I’m not going to tell you because you need to find out for yourself who are the good guys and who are not. Perhaps your MAM can help.
Contact the MAM, which incorporates more than 6,000 money or legal advice centres
Gary Vaux is head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council. Please send any questions for him to firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is published in the 20 May issue of Community Care magazine under the heading If your client needs debt advice, MAM knows best