Finance & Debt

Money Advice Referral Tool- Initial Evaluation

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Organisations in Tameside are better able to help people to access the support that’s right for them as a result of GMPA’s Money Advice Referral Tool project.

GMPA’s Money Advice Referral Tool is currently in place in Tameside and Oldham. The Tool supports people to access advice and maximise their income by improving referral and signposting between different agencies. The aim is to help people get all the money that they are entitled to, and to reduce the need for referrals to food banks, by increasing access to other kinds of support.

ICF Consulting Services has been commissioned to support GMPA to evaluate the pilot stage of the programme. As part of this, ICF recently undertook a rapid process evaluation of the pilot roll-out of the Money Advice Referral Tool in Tameside.

The evaluation was informed primarily by:

•  Qualitative interviews with those responsible for designing the tool and four support services listed on the  tool (Citizens Advice Tameside, Tameside Welfare Rights, GM Law Centre, Christians Against Poverty).

•  Interviews and focus groups with 16 stakeholders in 11 different referral organisations (two food banks, a housing association, social prescribers, a church, Jobcentre, a local charity, and a range of council services) to understand their awareness and experiences of the tool.

The interviews provided illustrative insights into how the tool has been accessed and received.  Here are some of the comments about the Money Advice Referral Tool made by those interviewed:

MART Evaluation speech bubbles for GM Poverty Action

The Money Advice Referral Tool appears to have been well-received among services in Tameside. Positive feedback was provided about the layout and functionality of the tool, particularly that information was provided on one-sheet (with further information available online) and it was clear what services could provide support based on the numbering format used.  Interviewees generally felt it was simple and easy for a range of people (professionals and non-professionals alike) to use. Some even described the tool as empowering, at when given to people in need of support, it enabled them to take charge of their own situation.

Many of the interviewees could describe the potential benefits the tool might have in Tameside, including supporting faster referrals and establishing better links between organisations.

It was felt that there was scope to develop the tool further, by evolving the functionality of the tool (e.g. by translating it into a mobile app format) and to use it as the basis to create a system to make referrals between organisations in Tameside.

Several early lessons can also be shared from the pilot:

A formalised and clear dissemination strategy (which includes considerations for branding, training modules on how to use the tool, outreach plans to increase access to different communities) will help to spread awareness of the tool and ensure end-users understand its purpose and how it should be used. This could also help to track who is using the tool, which in turn can help measure its impact.

The tool requires regular updating to ensure it can keep up any changes in who is offering advice and support, and what is most relevant for the tool. Consideration should be given to how this may practically work, to help support the sustainability of the tool.

Continued monitoring and evaluation of the tool will help to identify what impact it is having. It will also identify if there any gaps in services, if the tool should be updated, and how else the tool might be improved.

The ICF Team are now continuing their evaluation, focusing on the implementation of Oldham’s Money Advice
Referral Tool pilot.

Commenting on the evaluation, GMPA’s Graham Whitham said, ‘We’re delighted with the way the Tool has been received by agencies in Tameside. The Tool is helping to ensure that organisations can help low income residents maximise their incomes and access advice and support appropriate to their needs. ICF’s initial evaluation is helping us understand how we can develop the Tool further and achieve maximum impact through its implementation as we seek to rollout it out in a further four boroughs this year’.


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How do we end the need for food banks?

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By Zhané Edwards, Parliamentary Assistant, Child Poverty Action Group

In his spring statement, the Chancellor added £500 million to the household support fund, which started out as a pot of money given to councils to support families during the pandemic. This was an insufficient response to the challenges families are facing, given prices are rising at pace and benefits will not increase at the same rate. But what is the role of this type of support? And how should it be delivered? That was what our Ending the need for food banks project set out to answer.

Emergency support can in no way be treated as a replacement for an adequate social security system, but it does play a vital role in that system. It should help families through one-off shocks that cause a sudden drop in income or increase in costs, such as the onset of a health problem or the washing machine breaking down. In practice, however, many families are not getting the support they need when they need it. This is contributing to the rising demand for food banks.

Emergency support varies greatly across the UK. Both Scotland and Wales have a centrally coordinated emergency hardship fund: the Scottish welfare fund and discretionary assistance fund, respectively. In comparison, England puts the onus on local authorities to provide emergency support, but because provision isn’t statutory and budgets are already stretched, many local authorities simply do not run a scheme. Access to emergency support in England is therefore a postcode lottery. At least 32 local authorities, one in five, now have no scheme whatsoever. Even when there is a local welfare assistance scheme, the reach is limited due to chronic underfunding, especially in comparison to Wales and Scotland. Before the pandemic, spending in England per capita was far lower than in Scotland and Wales.

CPAG per capita copy for GM Poverty Action

The UK government did give local authorities more money to support people in the pandemic, including via the household support fund, but these pots of money have all been short term and ad hoc. They have provided no security to local authorities nor their residents who need this crucial support.

How can we improve this picture? We need a long-term funding settlement for emergency support. And we need changes to the way emergency support is delivered too.

Something that kept coming up in our research was the importance of dignity. Many people in poverty feel shame when going to a food bank. If properly funded emergency support was in place, people in crisis would be able to receive a cash grant from their local authority to give them the flexibility and agency in a financial emergency.

“People asking for emergency help have been through enough without being made to feel like we don’t trust them to choose the right baked beans.” – Citizens’ jury participant

“Choice is what gives us dignity, don’t take that choice away from people.” – Citizens’ jury participant

We are calling for a review into emergency support in England and Wales (Scotland has already commissioned a review), and for best practice to be shared among local authorities. It’s also essential that the support on offer across local authorities in England is made more consistent.

As we brace ourselves for a further rise in the cost of energy, food and other basics, we must ensure that benefits rise in line with inflation. Social security adequacy needs addressing at a fundamental level. Extending the household support fund was a completely inadequate response to the challenges low-income families are facing. But a properly funded emergency support system must also be there to help families when they face an income shock and provide them with the support they need so they don’t have to resort to a food bank.

You can read the project’s final report here.


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Be Smoke Free

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By Katie Burke, Community and Engagement Lead, Change Grow Live

With the cost of living on the rise, many people living in Greater Manchester are looking for ways to reduce their outgoings. April 1st saw the cost of electricity rise by approximately 50%, motorists are finding themselves spending more at the petrol station due to rises in fuel prices, and we’ve seen our weekly shop get gradually more expensive in recent months.

If you smoke, cutting back or quitting cigarettes can be a great way to save money. The table below illustrates the average cost per year for smoking, depending on the price and number of cigarettes smoked. The figures are startling – imagine the things that can be done with that sort of money!

We know that we’re living through stressful times, and many smokers in Greater Manchester smoke to relieve that stress. Because of this, you might be thinking ‘‘No way can I give up the fags!’’, but fear not, because free stop-smoking support is available.

Be Smoke Free for GM Poverty Action

Be Smoke Free is a specialist nurse-led tobacco addiction service powered by Change Grow Live, in partnership with Manchester Health Care Commissioning Service and Manchester City Council. Be Smoke Free’s aim is to raise awareness of the negative effects of smoking and to support individuals in quitting smoking. The service was born in April 2020, and since then has supported over 700 people to successfully quit after four weeks, and over 400 people to successfully quit over twelve weeks.

As the table demonstrates, quitters can make life-changing savings to their expenditure alongside the well publicised health benefits of going smoke free.

Be Smoke Free supports people 12 years+ who live in Manchester or are registered with a Manchester-based GP to stop smoking via evidence-based treatment. When working with Be Smoke Free the individual receives:

•  A free and direct supply of nicotine replacement therapy and medication (including vapes), without the need for a prescription or GP appointment.

•  A dedicated Tobacco Addiction Specialist Nurse who will provide ongoing behavioural support during bi-weekly appointments.

•  Treatment that typically lasts twelve weeks, with medication and nicotine replacement therapy provided free of and delivered to the individual’s home.

Our service is completely free of charge, so if you, or somebody you know, is ready to start their stop-smoking journey and save money in the process, you can contact Be Smoke Free directly on 0161 823 4157 or visit their website to access the direct self-referral form.


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Responding to the cost-of-living crisis

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By Graham Whitham, Chief Executive Officer

There has been a large amount of evidence published recently highlighting the mounting financial pressures facing households in the UK. Costs generally have been increasing rapidly, with the inflation rate standing at 5.5% (on the CPI measure).

The cost of some essentials is going up by more than that. Campaigner Jack Monroe has highlighted how the cost of basic food items has soared over the last year, at a rate much greater than official inflation figures. The cost of certain food items, such as chicken, beef and butter rose by over 10% in 2021. A litre of petrol increased by 28% over the same period.

As the energy price cap rises in April, people will see their bills soar – up by 50% in some cases. These increasing costs are likely to be exacerbated by the heart-breaking events taking place in Ukraine.

Stating the obvious, these pressures will hit low-and-modest-income households hardest. People who spend a larger proportion of their income on essential items will feel their budgets squeezed more than those on middle and higher incomes.

Just as the energy price cap rises, low-income households will face another real terms cut in income. Benefits are being uprated by just 3.1% in April in spite of the inflation being much higher. The JRF say that 400,000 people could be pulled into poverty and that nine million families who receive benefits due to low incomes will be £500 worse off on average as a result of this real terms cut.

So far, the national policy response has been limited. Government should increase benefits in line with inflation and reverse the £20 per week cut to Universal Credit. This would help alleviate the immediate financial pressures facing low-income households and provide a much sounder foundation on which to build the proper strategy for ending poverty the UK so desperately needs.

Locally it is vital that we focus on maximising household income, providing cash first responses to poverty and boosting financial resilience. That can be done through:

• Adoption of the Real Living Wage by employers. Nearly 200,000 workers in our city region would benefit if all employers paid the Real Living Wage.

• Promoting and supporting benefit take-up so people are accessing all the benefits they are entitled to. GMPA estimates that the amount of unclaimed benefits in Greater Manchester exceeds £100m per year. Benefits advice and welfare rights services in Greater Manchester bring tens of millions of pounds into the pockets of local residents every year, but there is more we could do.

• Signposting people to financial advice and support, including debt advice.

• By maximising the help people receive through Council Tax Support and effective use of Discretionary Housing Payments. These are aspects of the benefits system that sit with local authorities.

• Providing cash grants rather than in-kind support to people facing financial hardship. This is being done by some councils through their local welfare assistance schemes. VCSE organisations and even some foodbanks are supporting people to access grants.

Graham Whitham CEO for GM Poverty Action

Graham Whitham, GMPA CEO

• Making use of support available from utility companies. For example, United Utilities offer a range of different types of help to people who are struggling with their bills.

• Supporting people to access affordable, ethical credit. Credit unions offer customers low interest loans and access to other financial products and support. Credit unions in Greater Manchester saved people £13m in interest last year.

Through these local actions we can do what we can, to protect people from the cost-of-living crisis.


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Money Advice Referral Tools – update

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In January we launched GMPA’s second Money Advice Referral Tool, in Oldham and we are now working on rolling it out to four more boroughs in Greater Manchester.

GMPA believes that responses to poverty should focus on getting more money into people’s pockets and supporting people to avoid high interest debt. That’s why one of our strategic priorities is to support local efforts to boost household income and financial resilience. A ‘cash-first’ approach to local welfare, and an ‘advice first’ approach to other support services is key to this.

GMPA’s Money Advice Referral Tools support and foster cash and advice-first approaches by connecting people to advice and other income maximisation support. The aim is to help people to get all the money that they are entitled to, and to reduce the need for referrals to food banks, by increasing referrals to other kinds of support.

Pilot phase

The programme grew out of GMPA’s work on food insecurity, and we agreed with partners in Tameside and Oldham to pilot the tool in their boroughs. Both tools have now been co-produced and launched with partners in each borough. At the launch of the tool in Oldham in January 2022, Councillor Zahid Chauhan, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “I’m glad to see this support tool available to people at a time when many are needing it the most. The rising costs of living is hitting many people in Oldham hard and is a real crisis. This ‘cash-first’ approach will help get money into the hands of those who are truly struggling. If you’re finding things tough right now just know that you’re not alone and help is available. I encourage you to use this tool to make sure you’re accessing all the support you are entitled to.”

We have contracted an independent evaluation team to assess the impact of this pilot, and we look forward to hearing more about its use and the benefits to people experiencing poverty.

Rollout in up to four other boroughs

We have received funding from the Trussell Trust to roll out the tool in more boroughs in Greater Manchester, and have received expressions of interest from those who would like to work with us through this programme. We will make an announcement about the additional boroughs in April 2022. We are recruiting a Programme Officer to support the delivery of this work. It is vital that people are supported to maximise their incomes and to find routes out of poverty, and we expect most of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs to have such a referral tool, or at least to have one in development, by the end of 2022.

You can find out more about the programme, and register to use the Oldham or Tameside tools, here.


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An Introduction to GaMHive

GaMHive was launched in January 2022. Their members have been brought together through their experience with gambling-related harm. Their mission is to signpost those affected, either directly or indirectly by gambling, to organisations that could offer support with regards to counselling, education, recovery, and staying well. They aim to address the stigma associated with gambling addiction and by doing so, encourage others to seek help.  The support services which are signposted, are accessible to everyone and the support can be tailored to meet the individual’s needs.

The initiative is from the Greater Manchester area with the hope of providing a service to the community in that region. They aim to raise awareness of the negative impact of advertising to vulnerable individuals, the detrimental harm of subliminal advertising, and the easy access of gambling products to the young, in particular.

They will be working alongside other support organisations, such as NHS gambling service, Beacon counselling, Gamblers Anonymous, and GamFam, to name a few, to provide a holistic approach to the support offered so that those accessing support would find the service that is suitable for them.

For more information please visit their website.


GaMHive’s core aims are to:

  • Raise awareness and reduce stigma of gambling related harm in Greater Manchester
  • Collaborate and signpost those experiencing gambling related harm, either as a gambler or an affected other, towards support and guidance organisations
  • Advocate for lasting policy change locally and nationally
  • To give voices of lived experience the opportunity to contribute to the development of research, education and treatment services within Greater Manchester


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Post Office card accounts are closing

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Post Office card account customers to receive letters about their closure

This will affect pensions and benefit payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions has started sending letters to customers who are receiving benefits or pensions payments via their Post Office card account (POca).

People are being informed the POca service is closing and being asked for their bank account details so their benefits and pensions can be paid into this alternative account.

For those who don’t have a bank account, they will automatically be moved over to a new system called the new Payment Exception Service (PES). This will deliver benefits using a digital voucher. People can choose whether they receive the voucher via a text message, an email or a re-useable plastic card.

People moved over to the new PES can continue to use the Post Office to collect their money with the added benefit of being able to access their money from over 28,000 PayPoint outlets across the country.

The Department will look to move everyone off the Post Office card account by November 2022.

There is a dedicated DWP customer service centre helpline for those who need help and guidance. Details below:

Telephone: 0800 085 7133
Textphone: 0800 085 7146

Further information is available on the Government website here, on the Post Office website here and on the Money Helper website here.

It is important that people experiencing poverty are able to access all the financial support that is available to them. People are often missing out on financial help available through national welfare benefits, local welfare provision (such as help with paying Council Tax) or grants.  Please use the Turn2Us Benefits Checker and Grants search tools linked from our website here, and find out more about how you can access local welfare support in Greater Manchester through our directory on the same page.

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Save for Christmas 2022

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Manchester Credit Union urges families to start saving now for Christmas 2022

The community savings and lending organisation is supporting hundreds of its members who are finding themselves in financial difficulty this January after an expensive Christmas. Now they want to help break this cycle of debt for others this coming year by relaunching their Christmas Saver scheme.

Christine Moore MCU for GM Poverty Action

Christine Moore

Christine Moore, chief executive of Manchester Credit Union, said: “We are relaunching the Christmas Saver Account in response to the financial hardship many members are facing due to an expensive Christmas, exacerbated by rising living costs that are set to continue in 2022.

“We all tend to spend more at Christmas, but the reality is that many people are feeling the pressure to spend more than they can afford, causing problems down the line. Now is the time to prepare for Christmas 2022: the more members save, the more money they have available for their Christmas shopping – whilst avoiding a financial hangover in January.”

The Savings Account enables members to save monthly, fortnightly, or weekly and members can access their funds in November, ready to cover the costs of the festive season.

The credit union has also launched a Back On Track loan, to support members who overspent at Christmas and want to get those debts paid off in 12 months.

Manchester Credit Union is a non-profit cooperative that is owned by its 30,000 members. It has been in business for over 30 years providing an ethical savings alternative to high street banks, as well as affordable loans for those who need them.

For more information about Manchester Credit Union’s savings and loans products, visit their website here.

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Turn2us report

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Unforeseen life events plunge over 15 million into financial insecurity

A new report from national poverty charity, Turn2us, reveals how over 15 million people in the UK have experienced at least one life event in the past two years that has left them struggling to cope financially.

The research shows that women, disabled people, certain minoritised ethnic groups and young people, are the worst affected by the financial impact of life events, such as bereavement, illness, a relationship breakdown, or unemployment.

64% of women have experienced financial insecurity following a life event, compared to just over half of men (55%). In ethnic groups the figure was 76%, for disabled it was 72% and for young people aged between 25 to 34   75%.  For people aged 55 and over the figure dropped to 46%.

The publication of the charity’s report comes just weeks after the Covid-19 furlough scheme ended, and the £20 Universal Credit uplift was cut. Its findings show how life events can plunge people into financial insecurity, particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet, and that there are barriers to people accessing the support they need.

Thomas Lawson, Turn2us Chief Executive commented: “In the absence of long-term solutions that prevent people being plunged into financial insecurity, we urge the government to mandate Local Welfare Assistance schemes, with an additional £250m of ringfenced funding each year. This will enable councils to step in and help prevent families from having to make difficult choices between putting food on the table and paying their bills, because of life events that are beyond their control.”

Karen Isaacs, a Turn2us co-production partner with lived experience of financial insecurity, comments: “After a car crash left me unable to work, I had to quickly find ways to support myself financially. My initial claim for Universal Credit was not straightforward and caused a lot of stress at a time when I was under so much pressure from all sides. With no job and no money to support myself, while also being in a lot of pain, my mental health was absolutely at breaking point. I felt completely without any dignity, especially at my age – in my 60s – when I should have been receiving my pension.

“Now over three years later, I am still struggling and still trying to get a job. Recent cuts to Universal Credit have made matters worse and it is almost impossible to get help from anywhere for people in my position. This means yet another winter and Christmas struggling for money and worrying constantly.”

The survey findings also suggest that shame and stigma are a barrier to seeking support. It also reveals the coping behaviours people use to get by: almost 50% of those surveyed relied on a credit card to cover day-to day-spending after the financial impact; 23% took out a payday loan; more than one third (36%) missed bills or debt repayments with 14% reporting missing repayments more than twice; and 9% had used a payday loan or another form of high-cost credit more than twice.

44% of the people who found it difficult or impossible to cover the costs of the life event did not seek support at all.

The life events research was undertaken by Turn2us to better understand the impact of life events on people’s finances, how they cope, and what measures they need to support them. The survey and interviews explored a broad range of events that have an impact on people’s finances in the areas of health, work, family, housing and legal circumstances. Read the full report here.


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Linklaters and the Real Living Wage

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By Matthew Sparkes, Head of Sustainability at Linklaters

Linklaters is a global corporate law firm with 5,000 people working in 31 offices across the globe. Half of our people work in the UK, either in the London head office or in a support office in Colchester, Essex. On top of the direct workforce, key suppliers to the firm – in security, catering, front of house, cleaning and so on – employ a further 300 people indirectly across both sites.

The Real Living Wage has become something of which Linklaters has become hugely proud and even a little evangelical. We started paying in 2009 and joined the movement – run by Citizens UK – as a Principle Partner in 2011. That reflects the very real passion we have for paying the Real Living Wage, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because we have seen some tangible benefits. These include the impacts on job satisfaction (higher), willingness to be flexible (much higher) and staff turnover (much lower). Many of those we indirectly employ have been with us for 5 or 10 years plus and genuinely feel recognised and rewarded as equals. This matters as those benefitting are often those individuals that visitors first meet on entering the building and the warmth of that welcome is something of which we are rightly proud.

Alongside the Real Living Wage, we also provide access to the staff restaurant, gym and other ‘perks’ equally to both directly and indirectly employed staff. We also promote the local credit union so that as well as access to a fair wage, anyone can access fair borrowing and saving. This all creates an important sense of equality across the firm no matter whether directly or indirectly employed. That was demonstrated by the way we treated indirect staff so carefully during lockdown with no furlough and all roles retained. The Real Living Wage has brought to life a culture of respect and a real sense of collegiality no matter what role is performed.

Matthew Sparkes, Linklaters for GM Poverty Action

Matthew Sparkes

We now see the Real Living Wage as indicative of the firm we aspire to be. We are supporting the movement in Hong Kong, the US and Ireland, underlining our belief in its importance and our role in advocating in its adoption by City firms like ours. As a very successful business, it is hard to justify not sharing the rewards fairly and there’s no reason why that should only apply in the UK. Wherever you are, we believe that the benefits are clear, and I would urge anyone considering adopting the Real Living Wage to take that first step and join a movement that will bring advantage to your business as well as life-changing improvements to those who need it most.

More information about Linklaters.


i3oz9sLinklaters and the Real Living Wage
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