Cost of living and advice services in Scotland

 “The water’s up around everyone’s ankles, and now it is getting up to our knees.”
Money adviser

 In this blog from the Commission, we report on what we have heard from advice services supporting their clients through the cost of living crisis. Commissioners and members of our Experts by Experience Panel visited 11 organisations and also participated in an online discussion session organised by Money Advice Scotland.

We wanted to hear directly from groups, organisations and practitioners working to provide money advice and other forms of support in communities across Scotland. We wanted to understand the challenges organisations are facing, how the cost of living crisis is affecting different people they support, identify examples of effective approaches organisations and groups are taking in responding to the crisis, and to take the messages from what we hear back to the Scottish Government and others working at the national level.

You can read the full briefing based on the Commission’s visits to advice services here.


Picture of seven adults smiling and one holding a baby with an adult holding a sign. Sign says "Living shouldn't cost everything"
Commission Chair Bill Scott visits Christians Against Poverty to speak to staff and clients about the cost of living


 Between August 2022 and March 2023, Commissioners and Experts by Experience Panel members visited 11 individual organisations in 10 local authority areas. Most of these organisations had a focus on providing direct advice to clients to help them through the severe challenges they are facing as a result of the cost of living crisis. Commissioners and Experts by Experience Panel members also participated in an online discussion session organised by Money Advice Scotland attended by 22 money advisers to hear from them about their own work on the impacts of cost of living on advice services, what issues they were concerned about, and what they were saying would help them and their clients. We visited:


 Christians Against Poverty Scotland – Holy Trinity Church – Provide free debt help for anyone struggling with unmanageable debt. Holy Trinity Church has run this service in partnership with Christians Against Poverty (CAP) for over 10 years, helping local people out of debt with practical, confidential support and debt help to people from all backgrounds and faiths.

Money Advice Scotland – is Scotland’s money charity. Money Advice Scotland exist to help people in debt, support money advisers, and influence policy. Their mission is to be the driving force towards financial wellbeing for the people of Scotland.

Glasgow South West Foodbank – Glasgow South West Foodbank was founded by local churches and community groups, working together towards alleviating hunger in their local area.

 Dalkeith Citizens Advice – Dalkeith & District Citizens Advice Bureau offers free, impartial and confidential advice and information to more than 55 people in Midlothian each week on a range of issues. The CAB helps people gain knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions on managing their finances and their lives.

Working 4 U is a service which supports West Dunbartonshire residents seeking employment opportunities, provide assistance with benefits and debt issues, help to access learning, gain qualifications and improve digital literacy. West Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau offers local residents general advice and assistance across a wide range of subjects

Shotts Healthy Living – Getting Better Together is a community based health initiative which promotes the education, health and wellbeing of North Lanarkshire residents. Working with their communities, they ensure their local people have access to, and are involved in, the design and delivery of programmes and services created to help improve their health, well-being and to build their life skills.

Red Chair HighlandRed Chair Highland is a Micro Social Enterprise based in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. They underwent a rebrand and change in management in August 2021 and have refocused to reflect the growing demand for digital inclusion services and work to close the digital divide in the Highlands.

Anchor Project – The Anchor Project  works with families to make sure they are  receiving all the financial support and benefits they are entitled to; speaking with housing or other services on people’s behalf; helping people to communicate with their school or talking through relationship issues.

The Clyde Gateway Family Project – Clyde Gateway’s Supporting Families (SF) project, supported by the Access to Childcare Fund (ACF) has made a difference to families’ lives, bolstering children and parents’ health, relationships and financial security.

Moray Baby BankMoray Baby Bank accepts donations of used and new baby clothes, toys, prams, push chairs, high chairs, cots, moses baskets and other items in the age group from birth to 2 years old. They wash and clean every single item and check everything over to ensure it is both safe and hygienic. They work with various referral agencies in the Moray area, midwives, health visitors, social workers and crisis aid departments.

Gourock Food Pantry, Inverclyde – Gourock Food Pantry don’t think anyone in their community should have to face going hungry. They provide three days’ nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to them in crisis. They are part of a nationwide network of foodbanks, supported by The Trussell Trust, working to combat poverty and hunger across the UK.

Key Issues and messages for the Scottish Government

Advice organisations Commissioners spoke to gave us a set of main messages to share with the Scottish Government. It is clear that many of these messages are on similar themes as those from other organisations the Commission has previously spoken to about the cost of living crisis. But they also highlight some of the particular rising pressures that are being faced by money advice services as the cost of living crisis continues.

The messages also align with the evidence heard by the Scottish Fuel Poverty Advisory Panel about advice services, which informed its advice to the Scottish Government on immediate actions which could be taken to alleviate the impact of escalating energy prices on those suffering fuel poverty.

The Commission heard that:

  • Advice services are experiencing twin challenges of both a surging number of cases, but also increasing complexity of the average case – both of these add to pressure on services and a backlog of cases.
  • Episodes of acute crisis being experienced by many clients of advice services is taking its toll on advisers, who, for some clients, are running out of support options to offer. As a consequence the negative impact on staff wellbeing is a huge issue for services.
  • The rising costs of food and fuel are the main drivers of people seeking advice, along with transport costs.
  • Debt management, including of public debt like council tax debt is a particular issue – the pursuance of public debt is extremely punitive and requires reform.

Advice services told us of a range of policy challenges and barriers they face, including:

  • Delays and difficulties in their clients accessing the Scottish Welfare Fund.
  • Different interpretations and practices with regards to “cash first” approaches across areas.
  • Data sharing issues, particularly with Social Security Scotland.
  • The inability to sustain and properly plan a service on short-term funding and the administrative overheads that this entails, all of which detracts from frontline support.
  • The lack of support for some clients over the weekend when advice services can be closed.

The Commission also asked about what was working well or helping. Organisations told us about the following actions they have seen help them, and their clients:

  • “One stop shops” where support and advice is coordinated at a place where people are and the multitude of different grants, schemes and other forms of support are stitched together.
  • Some systems locally were seen to work well, including local financial insecurity funds and home heating funds for paying off particular kinds of debt.
  • Networks of sharing practice between advisers that allow them to share ideas, peer support, and workarounds to systemic barriers, in order to get the support needed to clients.
  • Wellbeing support, development and progression opportunities for staff and volunteers of advice services as they continue to offer essential support to their clients in the most challenging circumstances.

You can read the full briefing based on the Commission’s visits to advice services here.

 The Commission also blogged last year on a the main messages coming from a previous series of cost of living visits that took place between June and August 2022.


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