Minister for Local Government and Communities Carl Sargeant said that the review will start this summer and will explore how a stronger advisory network can be developed, so that services can be delivered consistently and universally across Wales.
Carl Sargeant said that the magnitude of the challenges facing Wales in light of changes to the welfare and benefits system proposed by the UK Government had led to his and the Finance Minister’s decision to undertake the review.
The Minister said that instead of advice being delivered in a piecemeal fashion he wanted to see an advice network which can respond to people’s individual needs and guide them towards longer term solutions offered by organisations, such as credit unions, as an affordable alternative to high cost lenders and payday loan companies.
He added that a more holistic approach would, in addition to advising on how to increase benefit income, also provide advice on a range of issues, from improving skills and confidence, to more specialised services provided for substance misuse, mental health or domestic violence.
Carl Sargeant said:
"Advice services are key to the Welsh Government’s efforts to tackle poverty. It is imperative that we improve access to advisory services particularly in view of forthcoming changes to the welfare and benefit arrangements which will change the benefits landscape beyond recognition and have significant implications for how support on benefit take-up and wider advice is delivered.
"It is important that the organisations we work with will give consistent and accurate advice to people on the implications of welfare reform.
"The advice sector is also facing a time of unprecedented change, such as the ending of the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) the face-to-face debt advice fund; legal aid reform; pressures on local government funding to advice services, all of which are being compounded by the economic downturn. This threatens the capacity of advisory services in Wales, precisely at the point when demand for their services is increasing."
Finance Minister Jane Hutt added:
"A priority for the review will be to explore how a stronger network of generic advice can be developed which improves the quality of service and provides people with support on all aspects of financial, housing and other related needs. The review will also identify the impact of funding cuts, assess levels of demand over the next five years and identify how Welsh Government funds can be used most effectively to support an advice network in Wales.
"The review will also help deliver the objective in our Strategic Equality Plan of strengthening advice, information and advocacy services to help people with protected characteristics understand and exercise their rights and make informed choices."