Debt Counsellor/Money Advice Caseworker

The Job and What's Involved

Debt counsellors (also known as debt/money advisers and caseworkers) provide free, impartial and confidential advice to help people gain better control of their debts. They may deal with clients who are finding it difficult to meet financial and credit commitments or clients that have fallen behind with loan or mortgage repayments. The people they are helping can often be in crisis situations with very complex debt problems.

Their work can be varied and challenging. Duties range from interviewing clients in person or speaking to clients on a telephone helpline. Some more senior debt counsellors may act as legal mediators for clients that face court action over their debt.

General responsibilities include:

  • Talking to clients about their money problems and helping them to remain calm.
  • Helping clients to look at their income and outgoings and make a realistic personal budget sheet.
  • Showing clients how to prioritise which debts to pay off first.
  • Advising clients about declaring bankruptcy and related court proceedings.
  • Writing letters to creditors (the people to whom clients owe money), explaining the client's circumstances and asking if they will alter the payment arrangements to make it easier to pay the debt.
  • Checking that creditors are asking for the correct amount and that the client is actually liable for the debt.
  • Negotiating new payment terms with creditors to make them more affordable and realistic for clients.
  • Advising clients about welfare benefits they may be entitled to claim.
  • Representing a client in court, for example, asking the court to allow the client to pay off their debts in a way that they can manage.

The work may involve liaising with other people, especially Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) workers, social care workers and solicitors.

Most debt counsellors/money advisers work from 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Some jobs may involve covering Saturdays and evening sessions. Part-time work and job sharing is possible.

Debt counsellors/money advisers are office based, working with computers and telephones. Face-to-face interviews are usually conducted in a private interview room. If they operate a telephone counselling service they may use a telephone headset. Some travel between regional offices may be required for more senior specialist caseworkers.

Starting salaries are around £17,000 a year for trainee debt counsellors/money advisers. Salaries are likely to be higher in the London area.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 2,750 money advice agencies across the UK. Most opportunities for debt counsellors/money advisers exist with Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) and in advice centres run by local authorities or other voluntary organisations. These are usually general advice agencies, providing money advice and a range of other support, and are staffed by a mixture of paid employees and volunteers. It is also possible to work in specialist Money Advice Support Units (MASU). A small number of opportunities may exist with universities, colleges or trade unions.

Due to funding, most jobs are offered on short fixed-term contracts, lasting up to two years. Competition can be strong for the limited number of full-time paid vacancies.

Vacancies may be advertised in local, regional and national newspapers, on the Citizens Advice website (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) and the job section of AdviceUK (www.adviceuk.org.uk). Speculative approaches for voluntary positions and work experience are advisable. The NCVO Voluntary Agencies Directory may provide useful contact information.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements to become a debt counsellor/money adviser. Personal qualities, such as strong people skills, are more important. However, good numeracy skills are needed for calculating and helping clients prepare budgets. Literacy skills are equally important for drafting correspondence and reports.

Speaking a minority language, such as an Eastern European or South Asian language is desirable in some communities.

Experience working in other areas of advice, such as consumer advice, welfare rights or debt recovery for a bank, council or utility company, can be useful. Qualifications in law, counselling, guidance, psychology, education, social/community work, public administration or social sciences may also help.

Most people taking on debt casework start as volunteers for organisations like the CAB or other advice centres. It usually takes at least a year of volunteering before entrants are considered experienced and knowledgable enough to apply for paid debt/money advice work.

The Diploma in business, finance and administration (available from September 2009) may be relevant for this area of work.

To work with vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Both paid CAB workers and volunteers undertake the same nationally recognised training programme in general advice. They may then go on to more advanced money advice or specialist training.

Although NVQ's are available at Levels 3 and 4 in advice and guidance, these are aimed more at people giving general counselling and careers advice. As a result, the Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) has been working with agencies across the advice sector to create a national qualifications framework. This will support the delivery of social welfare advice, including money advice. Some relevant qualifications that are currently in place or being developed include:

- NVQ Level 2 in supporting legal advice
- NVQ Levels 3 and 4 in legal advice
- Foundation degree in legal advice
- BA (Hons) degree in advice studies
- BA (Hons) degree in advice work
- Diploma in legal advice/advice work

In addition, members of IMA have access to training days at venues throughout the UK. These money advice courses give an overview of legal issues relating to debt/money advice and are at levels suitable for intermediate caseworkers right up to specialist and advanced level caseworkers. The Law Society accredits most of these courses.

The Money Advice Trust also provides a wide range of training courses for debt counsellors. These cover all levels, from basic skills to specialist knowledge. Some courses are delivered in person, others online via the Money Advice Trust's 'wiseradviser' training portal.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Debt counsellors/money advisers need:

  • A sympathetic manner.
  • To be good listeners.
  • Strong communication skills.
  • To be non-judgmental ( People fall into debt for many different reasons.).
  • To be discreet and able to deal with confidential information.
  • To be able to inspire trust in clients.
  • To be confident with numbers.
  • strong organisational skills.
  • Good IT skills, as most agencies use debt management software.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience and after undergoing recognised training, it's possible to move into specialist casework. Team leader and supervisory positions may also be available.

Experienced debt counsellors may move into other areas of welfare advice and guidance work, or possibly into training new caseworkers.

Get Further Information

AdviceUK, 6th Floor Offices,
63 St Mary Axe, London EC3 8AA
Website: www.adviceuk.org.uk

Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB). Website: www.citizensadvice.org.uk

The Institute of Money Advisers (IMA),
Stringer House, 34 Lupton Street, Leeds LS10 2QW
Tel: 0113 270 8444
Website: www.i-m-a.org.uk

Money Advice Trust, 21 Garlick Hill, London EC4V 2AU
Tel: 020 7489 7796
Website: www.moneyadvicetrust.org

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO),
Regent's Wharf, 8 All Saints St, London N1 9RL
Helpdesk: 0800 2798798
Website: www.ncvo-vol.org.uk

Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499
Website: www.skillsforjustice.com

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