by Myles Fitt, Strategic Lead for Financial Health
This column was first published in the Herald on 24 November 2021.
One year ago this week Citizens Advice Scotland launched a new digital tool: Moneymap.scot. The first of its kind in Scotland, it offers you an easy-to-use one-stop resource to improve your financial situation.
We created it because we knew that household budgets were going to be hit hard by the pandemic. Measures like furlough and the Universal Credit uplift helped stave off the worst impacts for a while but numbers of clients coming to local CABs continue to increase and the current financial environment is poised to cause even greater numbers of people to seek advice.
Moneymap’s analytical data bears this out too. I’ve just checked the figures, and in its one year the tool has had over a total of 117,764 hits. That’s around 323 per day, or 1 every 4.5 minutes. These figures reflect the genuine need for, and the value of, a tool like this in Scotland.
What Moneymap does is bring together all the ways you might be able to boost your income, cut your living costs or save money. The tool is designed for those who want to self-manage their finances and its strength lies in gathering all of this info in one place, so you don’t need to search endlessly online for individual bits of help – though there are routes from the tool to get CAB adviser help should you need this.
The tool has lots of content that supports anyone who needs immediate help, but also for those who want to manage their money in the medium to longer term. The user has the choice of browsing through all the content or developing a personalised list of content that is unique to their situation.
Moneymap is not aimed at any particular demographic, and why it should it be because since the pandemic started people across the population have been affected? The CAB service is not alone in seeing more advice being sought than pre-pandemic from younger age groups, those in full-time employment and those who are home-owners.
One of the most frustrating things about working in the advice sector is that we know many people are actually entitled to some kind of additional income - but they don’t know about it so they don’t claim it. For example, there’s a myth that if you’re in work you can’t claim benefits, but in fact many social security entitlements depend on your income, not your employment status. Same applies to Council Tax as there is a range of savings that can be made for some people. Moneymap helps you identify these.
Now that the furlough scheme and payment support measures have ended, the real economic legacy of the pandemic is going to be seen through reduced incomes. Factor in the sharp rise in energy bills and people are facing a really tough winter, and a difficult 2022. That’s why we’re making efforts this week to raise awareness of Moneymap and urge more people to use it and see what help they’re missing out on.
I’m also pleased to say that Moneymap has won plaudits from many sources, not least the Scottish Government who worked with CAS in a nationwide marketing campaign to promote it earlier this year. If anyone else would like to work with us in promoting it further, please let us know. Anything that can help people through these difficult times is surely really important.
Of course, not everyone has digital access, and some people still prefer face-to-face or telephone advice. So it’s important to stress that Moneymap deliberately does not replace these traditional CAB methods, which are still available in each of the 59 local CABs across Scotland. Moneymap, like our general advice website, is an additional part of our service offer, not a replacement for it. The strategic vision of CAS is all about giving you more choice in how you access our advice and support, so as we expand our digital presence, our telephone and face-to-face advice remains unaffected.
That face-to-face advice is the heartbeat of the CAB network and should form part of any and every advice service that aims to directly engage with people. For those who have complex advice needs, or who are vulnerable, it’s vital that in-person support is available, something the CAB network does as a matter of course.
And as we’re talking about money, I want to reiterate the message my colleague Sarah-Jayne Dunn outlined here last week about Black Friday and Cyber Monday – which are now just days away. These two days are great opportunities for bagging a bargain, but they are also traps that can cause you to spend more money than you intended, and maybe more than you can afford.
As Sarah-Jayne said, you can avoid these traps by following three simple steps. One, decide your maximum spend figure, write it down and stick to it. Two, make a list of the things you actually need, and then get their baseline prices – check online what their normal price is and that way you’ll know if the price on Friday or Monday is the bargain the seller tells you it is! And three, just be savvy about the offers you see on the day. Stick to your limit. And remember that Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals are only a bargain if you actually want that item in the first place.
Remember too that Moneymap can help you get through the festive period and beyond, so if you haven’t done so yet, why not have a look yourself? You never know what savings you might be missing. And of course, as it bears the stamp of the Citizens Advice service, you also know that the information it gives you is first-rate and completely trustworthy.