Plymouth – an integrated approach to financial capability

Plymouth City Council has partnered with Citizens Advice and other local partners to promote financial capability. This includes money advice and income maximisation, targeting particularly disadvantaged groups. The council sees this work as a way of tackling health inequalities.

Key learnings for other councils

Plymouth emphasises the importance of its Financial Inclusion Strategy Group and the Advice 4 All network, facilitated by the council. Both of these have fostered a stronger culture of collaborative working. This means that agencies coordinate services rather than duplicate them.

There has also been a partnership approach to funding bids. For example, Routeways secured funding from the former Department for Children, Schools and Families (now Department for Education). This was for a pilot project combating child poverty by working intensively with separated and separating parents.

Plymouth Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) is offering money management sessions to parents with financial issues around separation. As part of the collaborative approach, a website has been created with a database of all advice organisations.


Plymouth City Council's Financial Inclusion Strategy 2009 to 2012 was developed in partnership with other organisations, following a wide consultation in 2009. The strategy's main aims are to:

  • maximise take-up of welfare benefits and tax credits, with an emphasis on in-work benefits
  • reduce problem debt
  • provide accessible and high quality financial inclusion services
  • reduce fuel poverty
  • maximise opportunities for delivering financial inclusion through partnership working.

Many of these aims have a financial capability component. For example, people need to understand the different financial products and services available to them. These include, for example, credit unions' products, services provided by high street banks and the dangers associated with illegal lending.

They also need to be supported to develop techniques for managing money and planning ahead, so as to mitigate problem debts. They also need to understand the financial implications of the different utilities services to reduce their fuel costs. In short, financial capability is an essential component of financial inclusion. This connection has determined the city council's approach.

Who was involved?

  • The Financial Inclusion Steering Group brings together voluntary organisations including:
  • Plymouth CAB
  • Routeways Centre
  • Tomorrow's People
  • Energy Action Devon
  • Money Advice Plymouth
  • City of Plymouth Credit Union.

It also includes representatives from relevant Plymouth City Council departments such as Housing, and Revenues and Benefits. JobCentre Plus is also represented on the group.

The group also has strong links with other local financial inclusion networks such as Plymouth Welfare Rights Forum and Advice 4 All (A4A).

The problem and how it was tackled

Financial inclusion and financial capability are inextricably linked. Thus the city council takes the view that supporting and improving people's financial capability should be approached on a case-by-case basis.

Therefore it is working with service users in Plymouth CAB. Here, participation in money management training is an integral part of the support offered to clients seeking help with their debts.

In this pilot scheme, financial capability and money management sessions are the first stage. Clients are thus given greater confidence in, for example, drawing up their own budgets, before they see a money advice worker.

Similarly, outreach work to targeted groups aims to build skills and understanding of basic bank accounts, how credit works and safe options for saving. This is aimed at, for example, young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Supporting financial capability is a preventative approach which aims to build people's resilience in managing financial problems and difficulties. Therefore every opportunity is taken to provide advice or training to increase financial capability. This is better than simply dealing with the immediate money problem that is presented - although these are, of course, addressed as well.

The council has encouraged partners to make funding bids to support and develop financial inclusion services. The result was that more than £600,000 of extra funding has been secured for such services.

Specific services to support financial capability include the following:

  • A service level agreement (SLA) with the CAB which includes a number of training sessions on money management recommended to individuals seeking money advice
  • Various outreach sessions, including a CAB ‘surgery' once a month with Age Concern (now AgeUK)
  • ‘Great Expectations' sessions at children's centres
  • Services to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, delivered through a voluntary sector organisation
  • HM Revenue and Customs' awareness sessions to both advice workers and clients
  • Outreach with homeless people and training in financial inclusion for Gypsy and Traveller communities
  • Six ‘Money Matters' sessions delivered by CAB on the Pathways to Work programme and one session to Action for Employment staff.

The campaigns are delivered by professionals to disadvantaged groups to raise awareness of all involved in financial inclusion of the necessary ‘capability' part of the process. For example, by training Gypsies and Travellers to advise and support their peers, the whole community benefits. They are then better able to understand what they are entitled to and the tools available to them to manage their finances.

Outcomes and impact

It is difficult to separate outcomes specifically resulting from financial capability work. But the city council points to annual figures of more than £1 million of previously-unclaimed family benefit uptake and £6.5 million of unclaimed benefits generally.

Statistics from Routeways and the CAB are produced quarterly and are used to target support at particular vulnerable groups. These include, for example, older people. The figures are also used to refresh the action plan to ensure it responds to changing needs in the current economic climate.

Case study

Mrs A was referred to a financial capability session after coming in to Plymouth CAB for support. She is 59 years old and her husband suddenly left her after 37 years of marriage. The client's husband always dealt with all finances so when he left the client was not only emotionally broken but at a total loss financially.

She discovered bills had not been paid, she had outstanding rent, council tax, water and overdraft debts totalling around £9,700. In addition, her husband had fraudulently signed her name and claimed housing benefit to which he was not entitled.

The client attended the financial capability money management session and as a result felt much better able to manage her finances. With ongoing support from the CAB she is sorting out the debts. The client now has the tenancy and council tax liability in her sole name and is not being pursued for the overpayment or arrears.

Next steps

These include aligning the work to neighbourhoods identified in Plymouth's Health Inequality plan (HIP) as being the worst in terms of health inequalities. This will include work on debt, increasing financial capability and choice.

References and useful links

Advice for All

Plymouth Citizens Advice

City of Plymouth Credit Union


Financial and Social Inclusion Officer, Social Inclusion Unit
Plymouth City Council
Telephone: 01752 304321
Email: [email protected]