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Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support from April 2019

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Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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In the vernacular of Private Eye, it seems that Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland are set to trouser more than £50m to deliver Universal Support services from April 2019.

DWP will provide £39 million of funding from April 2019 to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland to provide this service. DWP will fund Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland a further £12 million to set up delivery in the run up to April 2019 to ensure a smooth transition to the new delivery model. This funding is from Universal Support’s £200 million budget, which was launched in 2015.

Citizens Advice to provide support to Universal Credit claimants

Be very interesting to see exactly how these services are designed and put into operation in practice. At the CPAG conference last week, there were tales about people almost coming to blows in libraries due to excessive demand to use computers and attempts to restrict the time people can spend on them. Also raises (for me personally) some interesting and enduring questions about independence of voluntary organisations here - if people receive sanctions for example following a joint intervention with a Cit A support service, will they trust them to help resolve that situation properly?

     
shawn
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From Esther McVey’s speech today to the Conservative Party Conference:

... we’ll continue to improve the system where we can and work with independent organisations to deliver vital services.

Because the State cannot, and should not, work in isolation.  It would be arrogant to suggest it can.

Which is why today, I can announce a new, national partnership with Citizens Advice to deliver Universal Support across the UK, worth £39 million from 2019. This will help the most vulnerable get timely access to Universal Credit, providing budgeting advice and developing their digital skills.

http://press.conservatives.com/post/178631477045/esther-mcvey-speech-at-conservative-party

Plus .... re Barnardo’s:

I want to continue to build partnerships with organisations across the country to help even more people into work.

So today I can announce that from the New Year we will work with Barnardo’s to provide care leavers with work experience opportunities in Barnardo’s high street shops. It will give that crucial, first step towards employment, all within a supportive, working environment, alongside trained staff and volunteers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-new-collaboration-with-barnardos-to-support-care-leavers-into-work

 

     
MartinB
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“In the vernacular of Private Eye, it seems that Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland are set to trouser more than £50m to deliver Universal Support services from April 2019.”........................

Not sure its new money

“This funding is from Universal Support’s £200 million budget, which was launched in 2015.”

They are rethinking delivery by making CA responsible.

     
Mike Hughes
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When did Gillian Guy make “impartial” disappear along with “free”?

     
neilbateman
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This does raise significant issues of an appearance of a conflict of interest by Citizens Advice.  One must question the wisdom of accepting this funding.  It is hardly likely to inspire confidence among people whose lives have been made more difficult by UC.

What safeguards will be in place for CAB advisers to act as strong advocates on behalf of people who have problems with UC?  Have DWP agreed in writing that advisers can act in a vigorous manner, taking whatever robust actions are needed in a case including litigating, complaining threats to judicially review, taking complaints to the Ombudsman, etc.? 

Even if there is such agreement, the perception of being in DWP’s pocket will remain and there is always a risk that advisers will self-limit their advocacy by thinking it might affect future funding or that some DWP managers will get on the phone to individual CAB managers suggesting that advisers should tone down their advocacy as it is inconsistent with this new “partnership”.

Finally, to what extent did Citizens Advice consult individual CABX before agreeing to take such a huge wad of money?

It would be helpful for Citizens Advice to respond to this thread.

     
Mike Hughes
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Could not agree more Neil. Detailed answers needed and quick as on the surface this looks like a significant portion of the advice sector going up in a puff of smoke. My personal perspective is that this is the natural end to a process which began with accepting legal aid funding.

     
Benny Fitzpatrick
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Absolute agreement with Neil and Mike. Citizens Advice cannot now be considered impartial as there is Govt money involved. They have kissed the Devil’s backside, and I suspect will come to regret it.

     
benefitsadviser
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Norma Major was a huge fan of CAB when john major was PM all those years ago. Im told CAB got an awful lot of government funding back then, but I wasn’t in the advice game back then.

     
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Benny Fitzpatrick - 02 October 2018 09:14 AM

Absolute agreement with Neil and Mike. Citizens Advice cannot now be considered impartial as there is Govt money involved. They have kissed the Devil’s backside, and I suspect will come to regret it.

It’s not the fact that they have government money which is the problem - after all many effective and principled lawyers get funded by government via Legal Aid to challenge the government.  It is the nature of the funding which is the problem. 

Legal Aid is not partnership between government and the lawyer to deliver a government service on behalf of government, whereas this is.  Big difference.

     
Mike Hughes
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True Neil but the impact of legal aid funding on Citizens Advice was that it immediately restricted work to that for which legal aid could be provided and on the basis which legal aid allowed. The concept of doing the best job, for free went out of the window and we had the novel idea of people not being poor enough to obtain free advice and certain types of work ceasing to be done because legal aid funding would expire and the allowed interview or work time was not sufficient. Many of us would not be experienced reps. were it not for having had those opportunities via CA as volunteers. Not exactly a lot of that going on since legal aid funds were grabbed. I can remember 27 years ago my then CA manager getting a call from the local borough council threatening to withdraw bureau funding if I persisted with taking a HB case to the Ombudsman. What chance of resisting that kind of nonsense now!

What we now have builds on that in as much as CA are not getting new money for this. They’re getting existing money which we know to be woefully inadequate. A number of people will walk out of waiting areas. There will be insufficient PC access and when people have issues in consequence of that they’re not exactly going to be queuing up to return to CA to fix it. We already know that post claim support is negligible and thus even those claims US can put in place are often failing 1 or 2 assessment periods down the line for lack of support. This also changes none of that.

From an advice sector perspective the question now has to be whether CA can actually be considered to be giving free, independent, impartial or even confidential anything. Are they in fact now simply no longer part of the advice sector? It’s not like you can compartmentalise what they do. Someone needing UC help may also need debt advice, consumer, housing or employment advice. In GMWRAG we’ve long had uncomfortable debates about advisers who charge and whether they should be in the room. Perspectives change but this brings that kind of discussion sharply into focus once again.

     
Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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FOI request seeking details about this contract and associated arrangements.

Also thought this tweet kind of sums up the fundamental contradiction that could arise.

      [ Edited: 2 Oct 2018 at 11:23 am by Paul_Treloar_AgeUK ]
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Paul_Treloar_AgeUK - 02 October 2018 11:17 AM

Also thought this tweet kind of sums up the fundamental contradiction that could arise.

I hadn’t even thought of that side of it. My background, like I guess for many, is from Citizens Advice and I couldn’t imagine any scenario where I (or any of my fellows at my old local Bx) would pass such information onto the DWP even if that’s what the contract says you’re supposed to do. It’s contrary to everything that the Citizens Advice service is about!

     
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Agree entirely with what others have said as regards concerns about independence, impartiality and conflict of interest.

However, it seems to me there are other issues which haven’t been mentioned.

1. Whether the funding is £39 million or £50 million this represents a drop in the ocean when one considers that this is the funding to deliver the Universal Support programme nationally. US is, essentially, assisting those with either poor IT literacy or lack of IT access to both make and maintain UC claims - given the ‘digital by default’ administration of UC, any meaningful US programme has to be massively resource intensive.

The amount being provided by the government cannot come close to allowing Citizens Advice to expand into the bigger and better premises, to purchase and install the numbers of new computers and IT networks and to train and employ the numbers of new staff required to properly deliver Universal Support without this significantly impacting on Citizens Advice’s ability to do what it is supposed to be there for - delivering free and independent advice to the public. So leaving aside issues of independence, impartiality and conflict of interest, this inevitably means that CA is going to be less available to provide advice.

2. As much as some of us might view DWP staff as ‘the other side’, it’s worth remembering that the PCS, the union that represents DWP staff, is opposed to UC both on a policy level and on the way it has actually been rolled out and administered due to its impact on claimants. And there are many within the PCS who would argue for a better resourced administration of the benefits system generally, with better, less partisan decision making and better trained and paid staff. Citizens Advice acceptance of this funding is something which will assist the government in making further redundancies and staff cuts within the DWP…...

ETA - apologies - just gone back and re-read properly. Mike has dealt with point 1 already.

     
ClairemHodgson
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and apart from the other issues raised, no doubt the DWP will still insist on client doing their own thing irrespective of their ability and capacity to do so…

     
Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Paul_Treloar_AgeUK - 02 October 2018 11:17 AM

FOI request seeking details about this contract and associated arrangements.

Also thought this tweet kind of sums up the fundamental contradiction that could arise.

Regarding the tweet whose to say that contradiction doesn’t already exist in some areas? Under the current Universal Support set up?

To opt for not running outreach sessions at the local jobcentre, to escalate issues via the MP, to challenge issues locally with the DWP regarding work practices and delivery, is not always met with universal approval locally.

 

 

     
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Mike Hughes - 02 October 2018 10:18 AM

True Neil but the impact of legal aid funding on Citizens Advice was that it immediately restricted work to that for which legal aid could be provided and on the basis which legal aid allowed. The concept of doing the best job, for free went out of the window and we had the novel idea of people not being poor enough to obtain free advice and certain types of work ceasing to be done because legal aid funding would expire and the allowed interview or work time was not sufficient.

Could not agree more. But I would be more emphatic in my condemnation.

My experience of working in independent advice centres and law centres where both we and Citizens Advice had legal aid (or rather, legal help) funding for welfare rights was that CA would do the bare minimum required to secure payment on an individual case. Submissions were very often poorly argued and legally flawed - and they would never represent at tribunal in person because legal help funding did not cover this. And they would then have the cheek to try to refer cases to me/the organisations I worked for to get representation, knowing that we would not be able to claim legal help because the rules precluded this where the client had obtained advice under the legal help scheme on the same matter within the past six months - nevertheless, we did take some cases (which is how I came to see first hand the quality of their representations).

We/I always represented where the client had an arguable case - before fixed fees, when the contract was simply to deliver a certain number of billable hours, I would be a little creative and advise a client of the tribunal’s powers and procedure, of the issues the tribunal was likely to focus on and the salient bits of the client’s evidence in an appointment immediately before the hearing, usually conducted in a café near the venue. Then post-hearing, again immediately advise on the implications of the tribunal’s decision, next steps and the respondent’s right to request a statement of reasons etc. All billable stuff that reduced proportionately the time spent travelling and in the hearing that we couldn’t charge for.

Once fixed fees were introduced, we simply took the hit where we could not get into exceptional funding/ 3 x value of the fixed fee terrain.

Welfare rights advice under the legal aid/help scheme did not need to be delivered in the way CA delivered it - they chose to do so.

 

     
Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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CHAC Adviser - 02 October 2018 11:51 AM
Paul_Treloar_AgeUK - 02 October 2018 11:17 AM

Also thought this tweet kind of sums up the fundamental contradiction that could arise.

I hadn’t even thought of that side of it. My background, like I guess for many, is from Citizens Advice and I couldn’t imagine any scenario where I (or any of my fellows at my old local Bx) would pass such information onto the DWP even if that’s what the contract says you’re supposed to do. It’s contrary to everything that the Citizens Advice service is about!

Thinking about it. I’m not entirely sure that the scenario could arise as things stand, as it’s activity related to work search that in general prompts sanction decisions and another email I’ve had sight of suggests this support is primarily intended to deal with making the initial claim.

However, that in itself is troubling because unless CA are set up to offer immediate same day appointments to anyone needing help, that client loses UC money from the off, let alone if they can’t complete the online claim when they do finally make their appointment. As noted above, there’s also a strong chance of a perception of a loss of independence arising and I’m also interested to know whether this contract has the same kind of gagging clause as with Work and Health Programme contractors (as discovered by Disability News Service)?

     
Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District
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Post and attachment removed.

      [ Edited: 2 Oct 2018 at 11:22 pm by Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District ]
Chrissum
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To be fair, past caring, none of the CABx that I have worked at operated in that way.
But back on topic, surely the work required to provide US is not something that CABx traditionally do. This new contract just adds to the gradual watering down of CA - you do not need an adviser to deliver US, just someone who knows their way around a computer with the patience to pass their knowledge on. The work will probably be delivered by volunteers who can be specifically targeted for their skills (presumably from amongst UC claimants) reducing costs so the money can be spent on the tech. Perhaps Ms McVey is confusing US with PBS, which CABx may well possess the expertise to deliver. Personally, I feel it is a kick in the teeth for LA’s who have set up the groundwork and processes for US and some of whom have not been given sufficient time to demonstrate how it can be effectively delivered. On the one hand, its a soft ploy to get the public behind UC - most tabloid readers will be familiar with CA and will no doubt applaud the government for working with them… On the other its a cynical play to remove the teeth of one of UC’s potentially most powerful critics. Can CA now produce social policy reports on how US is failing the vulnerable when it is they who are delivering it?
Feeling a bit ranty to tell the truth so many apologies for the above.

     
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I’m not sure it’s just a ‘perception’ of loss of independence. What happens where;

- a claim which CA has assisted a client to make is considered defective by the DWP?
- to the visiting teams/officers currently used by the DWP where a claimant cannot either claim themselves from home and cannot make into a JC+ office?
- where a ‘to do’ or appointment is entered into the client’s journal by the service centre and the client is reliant on ongoing US to maintain their claim? Will CA retain log-in data and alert the claimant? If not, how easily will clients be able to access CA’s computers - with appropriate support where required - simply to check their journal to see if they need to do anything?
- where CA assists with a ‘to do’ or the provision of evidence (childcare costs, Med3s, self-employed earnings) and the DWP later decides that action was not carried out or the evidence not provided?
- where there is a dispute as to whether a declaration of a CoCs did amount to disclosure/was effective?
- where, in addition to making a declaration, the client requires actual advice on what/how to disclose?
- where (if available) the advice is to disclose and the client choses not to disclose? Advice agencies are used to giving clients clear advice on these issues (i.e. our advice is confidential, you are obliged to disclose this, we can assist you to disclose, however we won’t disclose without your consent but we cannot continue to advise/work with you if you don’t disclose) - but will CA continue to provide US- though not advice - to clients who choose not to disclose? If not, why not?

These are just off the top of my head…...

     
Mike Hughes
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I think you’re both right. It is both a watering down of the role of adviser and an absolute blast through the concepts of independence and impartiality. That’s why I think it is effectively an acceleration of the end game for them as a service. The money involved would need to be increased at least 10 fold to provide anywhere near the level of US needed and what that’s telling you is that you’ve created a process which doesn’t work. Instead of using their evidence it wasn’t working to say “it isn’t working”  CA used their evidence to make the case for them doing it despite the fact they must know it cannot succeed because their own evidence has already told them that! Words fail. They really do.

     
Paul_Treloar_AgeUK
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Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District - 02 October 2018 12:52 PM

Last week we also:

Published the discussion paper for Future of advice, our next strategic framework, kicking off a 10-week consultation. We hope to get your feedback at this year’s annual conference’.

From the paper - “a target to provide 95% of people with an in-person appointment within a maximum of 5-28 working days”

So UC claimants needing US support from CA will lose at least 5 days money and up to a month or more, simply due to needing to book a face-to-face appointment?

Mike Hughes - 02 October 2018 01:47 PM

CA used their evidence to make the case for them doing it despite the fact they must know it cannot succeed because their own evidence has already told them that! Words fail. They really do.

Whatever gave you that idea Mike…..?

Put in place a comprehensive support package before roll-out speeds up, to make sure people get advice to manage their money and deal with any complications in the application process.

Citizens Advice - We need to fix Universal Credit - July 2017

[Edited to fix link. CitA’s error, not Paul’s]

 

      [ Edited: 4 Oct 2018 at 12:54 pm by shawn ]
Peter Turville
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Andyp5 Citizens Advice Bridport & District - 02 October 2018 12:52 PM

Published the discussion paper for Future of advice, our next strategic framework, kicking off a 10-week consultation. We hope to get your feedback at this year’s annual conference’.

Blimey, how much did CA pay consultants to produce this paper? Lots of nice sounding objectives. No detail of how to achieve it or what it will mean for individual clients in practice.

Like many advisers I began my carer in [GL]CAB[s] (as it was then). CA has for a number of years received £Xm from central govt to support its national organisation whilst the level of funding at local level varies considerably. Procurement procedures mean many of these big charities are acting more like businesses than charities (note the emphasis on brand, marketing, efficiency and competitors).

Arguably the dividing live between providing a specific contracted service (like Pensionwise) verses independent advice becomes ever more blurred? Contracting to provide a govt. service to replace the ever diminishing pot of core funding?

The impact of the CA UC contract will no doubt be in the detail of what is actually to be provided. Is it just initial claim & digital support plus budgeting advice or will it cover on going claim maintenance support with all the work that goes with it including challenging decisions etc? Will it include home visiting for the most vulnerable claimants for example?

Does that mean at a local level claimants should be able to access support with all UC issues from CA or will there be a (clear) dividing line in service provision. What if there is no organisation at a local level to take on the work that is the non CA side of that line /contract?

We already get clients who come to us having been to one of the local CA’s who say CA told them their enquiry was to complex for them to deal with. Presumably after March we will be able to refer them (and all other UC cases) back to CA as they will have the funding to deal with the issue however complex!?

One of our LA’s was somewhat surprised to learn via McVey’s announcement that their funding from DWP for UC support will end in March (which apparently will be the position nationally).

I can foresee some interesting ‘debates’ at local / national level between CA, other organisations and funders!

     
Mike Hughes
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I have on my pork pie hat and if anyone wants me then they can find me on the sea front at Rhyl dancing along maniacally singing “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used To Be” alternating with “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

Having previously called out swearing on here that’s not an available option but having read all this I need to find some way to cut loose.

     
Andrew Dutton
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I am astonished.

As people have said, why on earth would CA point out that the vehicle doesn’t work - and then take the wheel?????

I assume that this move will not address the fact that Universal Support is geared in to shovelling claims through as quickly as possible rather than supporting in the long term those who cannot manage an online claim.

CA are certainly in a bind if they wish to appear independent when challenging any decisions to which they have been party.

But that’s OK - they’ll be told they haven’t got proper authorisation anyway, and ignored.

Mike - I would love to hear your version of ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’!

     
Gareth Morgan
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Hands up to say, like many, that I started in a CAB.  Then went to NACAB as was and then been a volunteer and a trustee.  Lots of bits on the side like being a regional trainer etc.

In the past CitA (or NACAB)  was a service centre for CABx; it provided the information system, PR and was a channel for what’s now called social policy.  Most importantly it was controlled by the bureaux through the AGM and the area sructures. Now it’s not.

CitA now runs the local ‘offices’; it tells them what to do and how to do it.  Even though they are meant to be ‘independent’ local charities under local control through a board of trustees, everyone recognises that it’s a myth; useful only for fundraising.  They have to use the same systems, participate in national projects and work to the same standard.  It’s not hard to understand why so many local staff and volunteeers feel undervalued and un-understood by the central body CitA increasingly looks like ‘advice’ is an inconvenient distraction from their proper role of service delivery of nationally funded projects like Witness Support and Pension Wise and now Universal Credit support.  Add to that their sometimes very strange ideas about the role of technology in advice provision; coloured by an apparent absence of advice experience centrally.

As a, now, ex-trustee of a county CAB service which finally closed its books last month (leaving no advice service in the county at all and which had spectacularly little support from CitA in an anti-closure campaign), I shall be interested to see how this service will work there..

      [ Edited: 3 Oct 2018 at 11:02 am by Gareth Morgan ]
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Just to add…..

I too started my advice work career with the CAB - now more than 20 years ago. I’d begun my working life as a printer but after a succession of increasingly bitter and demoralising redundancy battles, finally decided I needed to look elsewhere.

I was fortunate to be accepted onto a volunteer training programme that was thorough, extremely well planned and run by one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked with. I’ll be forever grateful to her for the fact that she helped me understand why the availability of free, impartial, non-judgemental and independent advice is so important to any reasonably functioning society, why it is that free services need to exist that are able and willing to assist people to challenge the decisions of government and public bodies and for the fact that she saw my potential when I didn’t and supported me through the course when the going was tough. And grateful for the fact that as a consequence I am lucky enough to have a job which I consider both socially useful and which continues to be interesting, inspiring and rewarding. It wasn’t all down to her, of course - the colleagues I worked with in the bureaux placements she organised all played their part too.

Any criticism I have of CA is based fundamentally on what I believe to be its own undermining, if not betrayal, of the values which it instilled in me regarding what an advice service is and should be. I take no pleasure in it - quite the reverse.

     
Mike Hughes
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I’m sure you speak for all of us there.

     
Peter Turville
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Gareth has possibly summed up the issue neatly for me.

When I worked in CABx in London most of the bureau were still almost entirely staffed by volunteers (with some notable exceptions). Arguably the demands on bureaux were much less than they are now with far few vulnerable claimants in extremely difficult circumstances - again obviously dependent on location. We introduced a ‘gateway’ model long before it was NACAB policy in order to manage the growing demand.

At that time CAB had a poster which read “no problem to great or to small”. But even then some problems were to great even in ‘traditional’ CAB areas like benefits & debt. Training and support (at least in London) for volunteers was excellent (until NACAB dismantled GLCABS). Volunteers still couldn’t take on the detailed case work that was required in complex cases and there was minimal alternative ‘specialist’ provision..

Over the years some bureaux were able to provide more complex case work due to funding increases (inc Legal Aid). However with the reduction in funding at a local level there appears to have been a significant reduction in many bureaux ability to deliver complex case work.

With the increase in funding targeted at specific client groups or issues it has meant some CA clients get a better or more in depth service than others.

On line etc information and support is all very well and no doubt very helpful for many clients. But what happens when they need case work support from completing an ESA50 or PIP2, preparing an appeal / representation to negotiating with creditors or obtaining a DRO for example? Or if an adviser needs to see the relevant paperwork before they can give what might be very straightforward advice?

I’m still of the old school that face to face and casework provision is an essential part of an effective advice service that can reach the most vulnerable - who often don’t have access to these new fangled digital resources.

So it will be interesting to see how CA deliver UC support in practice at a local level particularly if demand outstrips resources as ‘managed migration’ is rolled out. I suspect in some areas that have had UCFS for some time even any ‘new’ money will not meet the current demand?

      [ Edited: 3 Oct 2018 at 09:56 am by Peter Turville ]
Chrissum
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Echo all of that. I too am an ex “CABbie” - nearly 20 years of my life in service in various roles and saw a lot of changes over that time - most of which were positive. I’m sure there is a plan in place to deliver this service and overcome the possible barriers we are raising. With respect that is their problem and though we can point out potential issues for them to consider, they are free to implement US as they see fit (subject to contract of course), and I am sure they will use their analysis of where things have gone wrong to do so. Much as I wish it were not the case, I’m sure we will all be around to mop up any mess that might occur. Hmmm sounds familiar…
My concern is that this announcement probably isn’t a spur of the moment thing, and there must have been some backroom negotiations going on before it was made. It is worrying that those negotiations do not appear to have involved the organisations who are currently delivering US nor do they appear to have been informed beforehand. The recent (first) bulletin for local authorities issued less than 6 months ago makes no mention of these plans, though to be fair only talks about funding up to 18/19. Was there a fair and open tendering process before public money was promised? Will we now see CA tendering out this work to preserve their independence to those organisations who are currently delivering? Not sure. I think I’ll just watch this space and in the meantime the debate and questions will continue.

     
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Joanna - 03 October 2018 01:39 PM

Also, I think we as advisers are firmly in the bubble. We think that public cares about our impartiality Maybe they do. They would probably tick “yes” in the questionnaire.
But maybe all they care is for their problem to be fixed, period.

I expect that very few, if any, of the men and women on the Clapham omnibus give such issues any thought. Even at the best of times, I imagine that few people consider questions such as “should there be free and readily available advice services and, if so, what should be their guiding principles?” entirely in the abstract . And I think that the current woeful state of mainstream public and political discourse means that, at present, we are very far from being in the best of times.

But when the issue stops being abstract and becomes of immediate practical concern, things change. I’ve yet to meet a member of the public who has become a client who does not see a clear need for advice services to be impartial, confidential and independent when I have explained to them that is how we work. In fact, clients’ questions and concerns about the service we offer are frequently underpinned by a worry that we might not be impartial, confidential and independent.

So I don’t accept trying to argue or campaign for advice services which really are impartial and independent is in any way living in a bubble. Either those principles mean something or they don’t…..