The Money Advice Service (MAS) is the official agency tasked with closing the advice and knowledge gaps people have about financial services. It also has a new role distributing public funds for debt advice to the various non-profit debt counselling agencies.
In June I was asked to give evidence to a Treasury Select Committee investigation on it. Having kept schtum for a long time, I (as well as others) frankly let rip, with some honestly-held, but strong criticisms of the way it has operated (details in MAS ‘letting rip’ evidence blog), especially its website. However, that has never stopped me being a supporter of the overall aims of the MAS.
On the back of this, last week we had a meeting scheduled. As you can imagine, I was a little worried it’d be tricky – though since the evidence session the MAS website has been upgraded, and that’s a step in the right direction.
I’m pleased to say we actually ended up having a really positive meeting, focusing on shared aims and brainstorming where there was room to work together or just support good work being done on important projects.
There are many challenges coming to the public’s pockets, not least the knee-trembling thought of massive changes to benefits being brought on by Universal Credit. It will be a seismic challenge to help people even understand the basics, and it’s one I think that fills all of us with trepidation.
We already have a benefits calculator on the site and are currently working on improving it to make it easier to use. The MAS is planning an education role on the same issues. These are huge projects for both of us, so on a cursory level we thought some co-ordination and cross-linking so there’s less duplication should leave a greater variety of tools and help for people trying to sort out what it means for them.
We also chatted through a host of other subjects that need tackling and are under-covered, from auto-enrolment in pensions to equity release and income protection issues, and how best to communicate those complex decision trees.
And finally, there’s the more obvious case of financial education – part of the MAS’s remit and something MSE and I have been campaigning on for many years. We already both work with the charity Pfeg and hopefully there’ll be more shared aims there going forward too.
As the end of the meeting, everyone had a much larger list of things to talk about when we left than when we arrived – that has to be a good sign.