A money advice service manager writes...
My manager has asked me to review the money advice service after a recent inspection. It's been running for a long time and records are on both computer and on paper files. Looking through both sets and trying to match them up proves a challenge and I think I may need the skills of an accountant and Hercule Poirot (or- say- a detective) to make progress.
I supervise an advice session; two volunteers tell me that people have come in worried about their employment. It seems local employers often do not pay redundancy or holiday pay. Pay rates are very low and our clients express a fear that if they complain they will never get another job. I look in records and find it's a regular theme. I pass it on to policy persons but it will be a slow process and not much help to those struggling day to day. It gives a sense of our service existing in a Dickensian world.
I visit another advice centre and see how they run their money advice service; they use written contracts that express the goals of what the client wants to achieve, how they will do it in and within what time scale. When I suggested this before my volunteers rejected it, but I feel inspired to introduce it again. Back at the centre I get a call from a client asking if we can help him. He's left his mobile phone on a train and his insurance does not cover it. I can only offer him my sympathy and suggest he checks the small print of his policy. Then he says he is going to change insurers. Problem solved.
The volunteers show great dedication, working through lunch breaks and often do extra hours. I sit in on a session with an adviser whose client has to make a decision. She needs to sell their house to pay mortgage arrears. The client has back pain and falls over dramatically as they leave. An ambulance is called and she is taken to hospital. The volunteer says this often happens when it come to the client having to decide something. Clearly decision- making is hard for her, and the NHS is providing a suitable escape route. It is good job we did not try to get the client to conform to a work contract with us!
At a team meeting with my volunteers I broach the idea of using time limited written contacts with clients again, quoting the example of the centre I visited. They're disparaging and say their methods work. Later I examine a file of a client who is on state benefits. They have a car and two horses. No one has suggested looking at the costs of these to help manage the debts despite the case going on for four years. I resolve to take this matter up with my manager and remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If so then I better polish my shoes now.
This article is published in the 4 February issue of Communty Care magazine