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Launch of Scotland’s Financial Health Service

13th January 2015

In December the Scottish government introduced a campaign to promote Scotland’s Financial Health Service. To encourage people to find out more about this new website and helpline, the “Lighten the Load” advertising campaign has supported this launch.

The timing of the launch appears to have been carefully considered. It’s common for people to defer major financial decisions until after the Christmas holiday period. Many different types of financial services providers report that they are particularly busy during the first few months of each year. This is especially the case with debt advisers, not least because some families all too quickly find themselves weighed down financially by Christmas expenditure and borrowing.  

Scotland’s Financial Health Service does not itself set out to be an advice provider. In essence it is a hub directing visitors towards other advice resources. For example, the debt advice section directs website visitors to advice resources such as Citizens Advice, National Debtline, Shelter and Christians Against Poverty. The website also provides a 0800 telephone number to call an advice-line operated by Money Advice Scotland.

It only provides short summaries of the various different debt solutions (debt arrangement schemes, Scottish trust deeds, bankruptcy and debt management plans) and leaves the provision of more extensive information resources to established debt advice experts.

Interestingly, the website also offers financial education modules. This includes modules on particular stages of life including setting up home, having a baby and experiencing redundancy. These are financial events that can (and often do) result in long-term financial difficulty if they are either mishandled or where there is a lack of advance financial planning.     

Another section of the Scotland’s Financial Health Service website features borrowing and saving. In particular, it emphasises the major potential benefits of using credit unions. This is a subject that we have discussed frequently over the years here at Trust-Deed.co.uk and which has only become more important given the proliferation of new high-cost lenders. The new website provides a useful tool that will enable you to easily find credit unions based locally to you that you might qualify to join.

Some of the other important areas covered on the website include budgeting, housing issues and pensions. This creates a holistic feel to the website, tackling common financial questions and issues of many different types.
It remains to be seen whether Scotland’s Financial Health Service and the “Lighten the Load” promotional campaign will provide good value for money to website visitors and taxpayers. The initiative looks and feels in some ways similar to the UK government’s Money Advice Service, an organisation that has attracted much criticism and controversy over a relatively short period of time since it came into existence.
For example, MoneySavingExpert’s Martin Lewis severely criticised the Money Advice Service at a Parliamentary Committee in 2012 for excessive expenditure on brand building, duplicating commercially available material that was already available and for being, “bland, boring, unnecessary and unproductive” (see from 15:43:09 on this parliamentary video). Some lessons do appear to have been learned however, with Scotland’s Financial Health Service website focussing upon signposting well-established and respected advice sources rather than seeking to duplicate them.  

This new initiative certainly provides a useful and holistic financial signposting resource to the public in Scotland. Whether this new “brand” will resonate sufficiently with the public to encourage a substantial number of visitors to take advantage of the resources contained in it remains to be seen. Financial and debt advice is a cramped area online via search engines, so gaining an online foothold can be both expensive and difficult.

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