Chapter 7: Impact of advice
This chapter sets out the economic and social impacts of advice giving for the individuals in receipt of advice as well as the organisations providing advice and for society more widely, and confirms the significant impact that advice services have been proven to have. It shows that recipients of advice are generally positive about their experience, and that there is evidence of both social and economic benefits from advice provision, particularly when it is timely.
It also discusses the measures of impact utilised by funders and advice providers and provides an indicative spend to save rationale for investment in advice services. This chapter presents evidence that there is a demonstrable spend to save rational for public investment in advice services.
In this chapter we give an overview of some of the key findings in relation to both social and economic impacts of advice services.
The impact of advice provision on the advice seeker
The literature reviewed recognises the benefits advice can have for users. Much of the literature is focussed on one particular area of advice, for example money advice, and provides evidence of impact related to that particular area. Far less literature considers the impact of advice more widely.
Some of the research is qualitative, and discusses the social impact of advice on people's circumstances – for example, improvements to their health, wellbeing or confidence. Other literature provides quantitative evidence of impact – using Social Return on Investment ( SROI) measures, among others, to quantify the impact of advice – for example, in relation to improvements in debt levels.
None of the literature examined disputes the benefits of advice, particularly to vulnerable people who are most in need of it. Impacts frequently reported include the impact on people's financial capability and income, their health and wellbeing, prevention of homelessness, and improvements to over-indebtedness (Burfeind et al. 2013). Advice providers report the impact of their advice, noting financial, health and social benefits for the individuals (Macmillan 2015; F. in C. Scotland 2015; One Parent Families Scotland 2015; Govanhill Housing Association 2015; Shelter 2015). Benefits to the individual are also noted in evaluations of advice services (Clifford et al. 2014; Hopkins 2014; Ltd 2007; Withington 2011; Gillespie 2007).
An earlier review of literature conducted by Gibbons & Foster (2014) highlights that a primary benefit of advice provision is its role in 'mitigating the effects of poverty' through income maximisation for the individual. However, the non-financial benefits are also noted. These relate to 'housing, education, training and employment, health and relationships' (Gibbons & Foster 2014). Furthermore, the literature considered by Gibbons & Foster suggests that these financial and non-financial impacts combine and lead to further positive impacts such as improved diets and mental health.
The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion's Advice, Support and Poverty evidence review refers to the primary impacts, secondary impacts and wider outcomes of advice. Examples of primary impacts include improved financial circumstances of households in poverty, arising from increased benefit uptake; secondary impacts include improvements in the quality of people's diets or their ability to heat their homes; and wider outcomes include improvements in physical and mental health, to which advice services contribute (Gibbons & Foster 2014).
Atfield et al's (2016) study looking at the long term outcomes for people accessing debt advice noted that the majority of participants in the group saw debt advice as having helped them, leading to positive change for the large majority of interviewees. They noted feeling better able to deal with creditors, having gained confidence and someone to talk to. The report makes the point that while advice may not in itself have led to them being debt free  , debt advice was largely seen as helpful, even among people who had not managed to improve their debt situation. While Atfield et al (2016) emphasised the overall positive long-term impact of debt advice they also advised that the impact of advice needs to be evaluated on more than a measure of indebtedness. For example, understanding the impact of debt advice on people's health, and on enabling people to cope better and avoid problems deteriorating.
The Hyde Group – does debt advice pay? (Evans & McAteer 2011)
The rationale for providing preventative or early stage advice to support tenants is clear to landlords. Rent arrears are a significant drain on a social landlord's resources – equating to 83% of its annual revenue funding. Rent arrears are therefore lost interest and revenue that could be invested in better homes and services for residents. Additionally, the process of pursuing rent arrears is resource intensive. It is estimated that reducing evictions by 10% alone could deliver cost savings of £4.1m to the sector.
In this study nearly half of residents (48%) surveyed reported that the debt advice helped them avoid being evicted, and a similar proportion (47%) reported that it helped them avoid court proceedings. (Evans & McAteer 2001, p7). The findings from this study also found that residents tended to access debt advice at the later stages of the arrears process. Following receipt of advice 60% thought that they had accessed advice too late, believing that they would have benefited more by accessing debt advice earlier (Evans & McAteer 2001, p7).
Moreover, Evans and McAteer (2011) suggest that there is a strong association between over-indebtedness and psychological health, with one in two people in debt having a mental health problem. They suggest that "employing effective debt advice interventions to support residents in arrears and prevent evictions would provide additional (as yet unquantified) savings for society in the form of reduced health and social care costs. Simply pointing vulnerable residents in the direction of informal information and support is better than no support at all… our research shows that funding debt advice services for residents is much more effective and delivers significant value for money for social landlords" (Evans & McAteer 2011, p8).
Govanhill Housing Association (Govanhill Housing Association Annual Review, 2015)
The Govanhill Housing Association Chairperson in the organisation's 2014/15 annual review said "as expected last year, one of our principal concerns was the expected impact of welfare and benefit reforms on the most vulnerable in our community. Our response was to enhance our existing welfare rights service with the Welfare Hub, which has proved to be highly successful since it opened in June 2014. In its first year of operation the team assisted around 1,000 people and helped residents access an estimated additional £2m in annual income from benefits and tax credits".
Economic impact of advice
The range of literature considered as part of this review presents a compelling case for advice services illustrating the positive financial impact for the individual and the public purse (Clifford et al. 2014; Social Value Lab 2014; Stepchange 2014; Gibbons & Foster 2014; Dryburgh 2011; The University of Strathclyde 2014).
For example, a study conducted by the University of Strathclyde (the University of Strathclyde, 2014) considers the preventative nature of advice services, noting that access to advice can keep people in work, in housing and out of debt, thereby reducing public funding expenditure related to unemployment, homelessness and poverty. The preventative nature of advice is something that NHS Scotland is embracing, recognising that there will be a net gain achieved from reduced costs associated with the improved health and wellbeing reported by patients who receive advice. A recently published forecast of the Social Return on Investment ( SROI) of co-location of advice workers in NHS primary care settings suggests that every £1 invested in co-locating advice workers in GP settings and allowing advice workers to access health records would generate an approximate £39 of social and economic benefits (Carrick et al. 2017).
In the UK, some Commissioners of local health services have pioneered the provision of advice services as part of community and primary care. A significant research body clearly indicates that poverty and social welfare law problems are routinely associated with ill-health. There is evidence of the beneficial health impact of receiving good advice, and many people presenting to health services are key target groups for advice services. It emphasizes that there is a compelling case to look at how advice services can engage strategically with health services for client benefit, and to improve health outcomes in the most cost efficient way.
The Healthier, Wealthier Children project (which focused on Type I and Type II advice and received financial support from Scottish Government) had significant impacts: almost half of those accessing advice (663 out of 1,347) received some type of financial gain. The overall actual gains during the evaluation period were £2,256,722.
The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Gibbons & Foster 2014, pg. 68) cautions about the need for a consistent approach to be adopted concerning appropriate treatment of issues in SROI assessment (including, for example, deadweight, displacement, and drop-off effects), and for agreements to be reached between the advice sector and other stakeholders, including Government. This is an important point, as many organisations have sought to measure the SROI of their advice service, however, without de-valuing the work undertaken, the ways in which the SROI methodology has been applied are unlikely to be consistent.
Recommendations regarding the measurement and reporting of impact
The literature highlights that advice providers are encouraged to consider the impacts of their service, and report on this in terms of:
- Costs and benefits that specifically relate to their area of responsibility;
- Costs and benefits to the public sector as a whole;
- Costs and benefits to society that government does not presently consider to relate to the public sector, but that are important to stakeholder groups.
The combination of these results provide the Social Return on Investment ( SROI) in advice services.
However, the calculation of SROI is not straightforward. Gibbons & Foster (Gibbons & Foster 2014) report the following challenges to calculating SROI:
- Outcomes may not be easy to validate. For example, it is difficult to properly assess the impact that someone feeling 'less depressed' after receipt of advice may have on health service provision. This is because it is difficult to quantify the cost (if any) incurred by Health Services or employers.
- Outcomes may not be easy to attribute directly to the intervention of the advice provider. For example, an individual may seek advice and support from multiple agencies.
- It is difficult to assess the value of an outcome. For example, savings made by a Local Authority as a result of preventing homelessness will vary depending on the level of support offered to provide and maintain a tenancy.
- Some outcomes would happen regardless of the intervention. As such, the value of these 'deadweight' outcomes should be disregarded.
- Some outcomes have displacement effects and need to be discounted. For example, income maximisation related to renegotiated debt payments over a longer term rather than debt write off.
Clearly, these limitations and the interpretation of impact, combined with the differing audiences and stakeholders on which the impact is being measured create difficulties in assessing the total SROI of all publicly-funded advice services. Beyond the complexities of measuring SROI in a consistent way, the literature also suggests that impact measurements are provided at too general a level. For example, the impacts are not differentiated by protected characteristic. The literature suggests that advice providers and the funders of advice should consider how impact is measured in a consistent fashion (Gibbons & Foster 2014) and in relation to particular groups of society (Clifford et al. 2014).
A further complication is added when considering the SROI of advice services on the delivery of public services. This is because benefits to the public purse can be linked to advice provision that does not receive direct public funding. An example is given by the Stepchange Debt Charity. This charity is primarily funded by levy's from the financial sector. It also receives funding from the Money Advice Service (which does receive funding from the public purse). The StepChange Debt Charity reports that its SROI is significant, even accounting for duplication, deadweight and other factors. It reports that its total investment in services amounts to £33.8m. An SROI evaluation of 46% of its client base suggests a gross positive impact of £195.8m (Clifford et al. 2014). Therefore, to fully understand the impact of advice services, the Scottish Government could also consider the impact of Type I and Type II advice services that are offered without charge to the public.
Additionally, the Improvement Service argues that the impact of advice services is not used to its maximum potential (The Improvement Service 2016). Accordingly, those responsible for delivering advice should do more to raise the profile regarding the impact of advice to political decision makers both locally and nationally in order to preserve or attract continued investment in advice services.
- In the literature, the positive impact of advice is undisputed. The impacts reported are both social (affecting factors such as people's health and wellbeing), and economic (affecting people and organisations' financial situation).
- This chapter has also shown that recipients of advice are generally positive about their experience. This chapter has indicated that the earlier people receive advice, the more impact it is demonstrated to have and early intervention is shown to prevent people reaching crisis point.
- There are clear examples of the economic impact of advice services – and the cost savings these can offer to the public purse. These are calculated using a range of different methods, including social return on investment measures, but inconsistencies in application of the methodology make it difficult to compare across services. However, inconsistencies in data collection make comparison between services, and accurate reporting of impact challenging. It can be suggested, therefore, that evidence of the impact is not used to its full potential in relation to influencing decision makers locally and nationally.