CARF: Then and Now

Date published: 17th November 2017

1991 was the year the Soviet Union ceased to exist; Feddie Mercury of rock group Queen died, Silence of the Lambs was in the cinema and Michael Stich beat Boris Becker in the 105th Wimbledon Men’s final.  It was also the year that June Menzies started as a volunteer in Cowdenbeath Citizens Advice Bureau, prior to the organisation merger with Rights Office Fife.  She is now manager of the Money Advice Unit which consists of 2 coordinators, 14 money advisers, 4 Financial Inclusion caseworkers, 2 energy advisers, an income maximisation officer, an administrator, 5 money advice assistants, and 5 volunteers.

With over 26 years’ experience, June has observed many changes within the money advice sector so is an ideal person to comment on CARF: Then & Now.

June Menzies: Money Advice Manager

In 1991 money advice delivery was significantly different to what it is today.  Clients just dropped in and advisers (mostly volunteers) could be with a debt client for over 2 hours (others in the waiting room just had to wait).  Fast forward to 2017 and it is much more efficient with clients triaged at point of contact then an appointment arranged.

In 1991 there was no computer in the office I volunteered in (Cowdenbeath).  If we needed to send letters to creditors (which he did on a daily basis), you either typed them on a typewriter or they were written by hand.  Totally different to today where we have computers, laptops, tablets etc.

Clients did not have the protection from diligence then that they do today (for example DAS) as the options were mostly token offers; pro-rata payments or very rarely bankruptcy.  It was quite difficult to declare yourself bankrupt way back then.  There was a time when it was very public as an advert used to appear in the local paper!

As we didn’t have the luxury of a computer, re-payments were calculated manually, while case files were all paper based.  Case notes were all hand-written (on yellow sheets) and this was sometimes difficult if you were reading another adviser’s case (especially if their handwriting was not so good!).

From the merge in 1997 between all Fife CABs and Rights Office Fife (ROF) until mid-2006 all records were paper meaning only the staff in that office could see the client record.  Fast forward to mid-2006 and client records can be accessed from any office/outreach (and handwriting is no longer a problem).  Now, it doesn’t matter if you call into an office, get advice over the phone or by webchat, the adviser can access your case notes and pick up your enquiry from the previous adviser.

I had to manually count yellow sheets to find out how many clients we had seen each month.  Being asked for stats was a form of torture as it was so difficult to do.  Nowadays we can click a button and produce a whole host of facts and figures.  For example, last year the money advice unit assisted with over 2,500 debt enquiries and the most common debt type was credit cards?

We still had poinding sales in 1991 (where a debtor’s goods are priced in preparation for the enforced sale of the debtor’s possessions – a warrant sale).  This was extremely stressful for our clients.  Poinding sales were not abolished until 2002 (albeit it was proposed by Tommy Sheridan in 1999).

The introduction of DAS in 2004 saw small changes but at that time interest and charges were still being added.  From 2013 Creditors were no longer able to add interest and charges and these helped clients considerably.

The introduction of LILA in 2008/2009 gave a significant amount of clients a solution to their debt problems and allowed them a fresh start.

The largest change within the money advice sector is that our team is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and we have achieved National Standards for Advice Provision.  Money and debt advice is now a career choice and a reputable profession.  We deliver financial education sessions to all ages of the Fife community in the hope that one day, the need for crisis debt advice is unnecessary.  But until then, the team are here delivering high quality advice to anyone living or working in Fife who needs us.

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