Reshaping Financial Support: Action Learning Programme

The Reshaping Financial Support Action Learning Programme will work collaboratively with local authorities to build on existing good practice and accelerate further development, coordination and innovation in the support delivered to improve the financial circumstances of low income households.


The key intended outcomes of the programme are to:

  • Facilitate sector-led improvement and innovation via the sharing of evidence as regards innovative approaches and effective practice to support low income households,
  • Develop constructive and effective approaches to councils’ direct financial relationships with residents, in particular through Revenues and Benefits and Housing, to ensure that they foster positive engagement, tackle problem debt and support financial inclusion,
  • Support stronger partnerships between local government and key stakeholders, including financial services providers, helping to give partners a clearer understanding of what councils can offer and what councils need, and
  • Help make the case to Government and other key stakeholders for a properly resourced and recognised local safety net that has an explicit emphasis on poverty prevention and financial / economic inclusion.

Background

Tackling debt and promoting financial well-being for low income households are increasingly seen as key components of economic recovery, building sustainable communities and delivering a prudent approach to public spending. 

Low income households are facing a tough time, with a number of factors currently impacting on their financial health and outlook. These factors include; depressed real wage growth, ongoing welfare reform, high housing costs and longer term changes in the labour market (including more flexible working patterns and low paid self-employment).

Local authorities are at the forefront of responding to these challenges. Councils are at the heart of their local communities and interact with their residents’ lives on a daily basis. They have direct financial relationships with their residents, from collecting Council Tax, and sometimes rent, to administering benefits and other discretionary payments. They also have a leading role in strengthening the local economy and securing inclusive growth, and are committed to achieving greater social mobility, fairness and community cohesion. In addition, they have statutory responsibilities for housing and homelessness, public health and skills.

With this backdrop, the Reshaping Financial Support research report found that some councils are already instigating a range of support services to meet the needs of low income households.

Examples of such facilities include; utilising data to proactively identify, categorise and engage with households who have been affected by welfare reforms; providing immediate assistance with discretionary payments or emergency food and fuel support; and delivering welfare rights advice, money management and debt advice to increase household income and help with financial problems.  In addition, many councils have taken steps to improve their own debt collection processes by seeking to reduce the need for enforcement action, establishing sustainable repayments and offering struggling households access to proactive support.

Building on this Good Practice and Accelerating Further Improvement

The Reshaping Financial Support Action Learning Programme is designed to support selected local authorities to further develop, coordinate, share and evaluate their existing work on financial support, particularly in relation to the following structural themes focused on maximising the effectiveness of this support:

Quality and effectiveness: How can the quality and effectiveness of local advice and support services be improved to facilitate more effective access and take-up of support by low income households? 

For example: this could include the co-commissioning of services with other stakeholders (including local partners and the Money and Pensions Service); the co-design of services with local residents; the development of quality standards and accreditation frameworks (in line with Money and Pensions Service policy and standards) and the positive use of behavioural insights to inform effective customer engagement.

Integrated provision: How can a more integrated and holistic ‘core’ offer of support to low income households be developed and delivered to enhance access to, and engagement in, support services? 

For example: this could include joining up relevant services (e.g. advice services, discretionary payments and access to affordable financial products) into one seamless package of support; linking financial support into wider services (e.g. health and employment support) to better meet the underlying and often complex needs of residents and exploring the co-location of services with local partners.

Maximising efficiency and fairness through financial interactions: How can the infrastructure of local authorities and exchanges with residents be effectively harnessed to maximise the financial well-being of local residents? 

For example: this could include revenue and recovery approaches such as local Council Tax recovery, the ‘financial inclusion proofing’ of council services (e.g. debt collection strategies) that embeds resident financial well-being at the heart of core service delivery and exploring the use of personalised repayment schedules.

Utilising data and analytics: How can data (from within the local authority and across local partners) be better employed to effectively identify and target households in need?

For example: this could include analysing resident information from across council departments as well as available external data to map financial risk, proactively identifying and categorising households according to need or particular vulnerable groups (e.g. those in supported housing) and the targeting of tailored financial support to these residents.

Impact and evaluation: How can local financial support services be more effectively evaluated to demonstrate and measure their impact and how they can reduce demand for higher cost statutory interventions? 

For example: this could include the development and use of evaluation methods that robustly measure and assess local service delivery in terms of its impact, outcomes, social value and business benefits.

What are we looking for?

Initially, we are looking to directly work with four local authorities across England and Wales and are delighted to invite interested councils to submit an expression of interest to be involved.

Whilst we want to focus on the five themes identified above, it is not our intention to be overly prescriptive about the specific actions that will be taken forward in the Action Learning Programme. We are particularly keen to hear from authorities who have well advanced plans and strategies in respect of these agendas, but will also consider those whose interest is still developing. Whilst we have identified potential examples of project activity under each of these themes, councils may wish to present alternative ideas and suggestions that would also fit within these themes.

We are keen to ensure that the lived experience of people in low income households and with financial support needs are brought to bear on the design of services and project delivery.

What support will we provide to the selected local authorities?

  • Programme funding - The Action Learning Programme has a small pot of funding available (up to £25,000 per authority) to contribute towards new work and cover some of the costs of participating on this programme over the next 12-18 months. The funding level will be agreed with the selected councils and will be dependent on their specific proposal and funding requirements.
  • Access to programme consultancy - The Action Learning Programme will provide access to a range of resources to support the council’s involvement on the programme and to help advance their work on this agenda. Specifically, each participating authority will benefit from direct consultancy support via a team of experienced social regeneration experts with specialism in financial inclusion and financial wellbeing, alongside access to relevant research, reports and toolkits.
  • Further learning and development – Selected local authorities will have access to an Action Learning network, which will be established specifically for this programme.  A series of network meetings will be delivered over the course of the programme to help foster mutual learning amongst participating authorities and identify national issues for the LGA to take forward with policy makers and other stakeholders. Participating authorities will also be identified as exemplar authorities in the financial support field.
  • Partnership opportunities - The LGA will initiate external links and expertise from related partnership work and programmes including those being led by Government departments and the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS)
  • Evaluation support - Participants will benefit from access to research expertise to help design, implement and robustly evaluate the impact and effectiveness of various financial support activities that will contribute towards a final high profile research study that will be commissioned by the LGA.

Commitment from councils:

We are particularly keen to hear from councils that can demonstrate their passion for tackling poverty and financial exclusion in their area, who are committed to working in close partnership with stakeholders, including those within the voluntary and community sector, to develop their local financial support agenda.

Councils will also need to ensure that they have the relevant internal buy-in and ownership to the programme from senior management and the capacity to participate and commit to delivery throughout the entire programme.

What next?

If you are interested in being considered for inclusion in the Reshaping Financial Support Action Learning Programme, please complete the Expression of Interest Application Form. The form should be submitted electronically by midnight on 25 October 2019. If you would prefer to email your completed form please contact Rose Doran - rose.doran@local.gov.uk.

Following a review of the expressions of interest, we will select four councils to participate in the programme who will attend an initial exploration and design Action Learning event at the LGA offices in London on 14 November 2019.

It is intended that formal programme delivery will commence in January 2020.

If you have any questions or require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact Rose Doran (Senior Adviser) on 020 7664 3073 or rose.doran@local.gov.uk