Plans for new debt advice service for Scotland unveiled
Plans for a new debt advice service for Scotland have been unveiled by ministers amid growing concern about problem debts.
More than 600,000 Scots - 14.2% of the population - are struggling to pay debts and cover their bills, according to the Money Advice Service.
And Citizens Advice Scotland says it issued more than 100,000 pieces of advice about the issue last year alone.
Powers to fund the new service were devolved to Holyrood in January.
Experts say more people are falling into debt as the cost of living rises, while incomes remain static.
- Problem debts hit up to 700,000 Scots
- Personal insolvencies in Scotland up by 5%
- UK household debts see big increase
Of those who have problem debts in Scotland, it is estimated that only about 20% will seek advice from a free debt advice provider.
But in a new report the Scottish government says it wants to set up a service which is focused on the users.
The Tackling Problem Debt Advice report claims growing numbers of people seeking advice may have contributed to low staff morale and high turnover at current advice services.
Ministers say they also want to ensure the new service is sustainable in the long-term by providing adequate funding and ensuring the necessary staffing levels.
"Problem debt can increase stress and strain on families and friendships and it often affects those who are already struggling," said Business Minister Jamie Hepburn.
"Sadly, these issues can become a greater strain at Christmas.
"Early intervention can help mitigate the damaging effects of problem debt but people often delay getting help, or advice providers struggle to meet demand.
"This plan sets out our ambition to create a free debt advice system that responds to the needs of those who seek it, offers more joined up services and has adequate funding to survive and provide high quality services."
Their plan was drawn up with help from the Tackling Problem Debt Group (TPDG), made up of current advice services and local authorities.
It sets out nine actions to ensure the debt services work best for Scottish users.
- Driving technological innovation
- Workforce planning
- Multi-year funding pledges to allow planning for the future
The government has also pledged to hold roundtable meetings with providers to streamline services, as well as launching a Scotland-only marketing campaign, to raise public awareness of the services on offer.
The report has been welcomed by Citizens Advice Scotland, which already offers free debt advice in Scotland.
Chief executive Derek Mitchell said CAS advisers were seeing evidence of problem debts in communities across the country every day.
"The Citizens Advice network in Scotland is one of the biggest providers of free debt advice in the country, and last year we issued over 100,000 pieces of advice relating to debt," he added.
"Debt is second only to social security in terms of the top issues our advisers see."