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Policy 11 January 2022

Advising Londoners

In 2020, a Report commissioned by the GLA, called 'Advising Londoners' recommended that there should be a shared vision and strategy for social welfare advice in London. The report was written by Phil Jew - an independent consultant who has also had significant experience in CEO roles in the London Citizens Advice Network - and a research team working with the Advice Services Alliance


The report 'Advising Londoners: An evaluation of the provision of social welfare advice across London' finds that many Londoners left without access to advice as the social welfare advice sector reaches crisis point. The provision of social welfare advice across London is insufficient to meet the needs of Londoners. Shortages are particularly prevalent in services for young people and ethnic minority communities whose advice needs have increased during the lockdown.      

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit increasing numbers of people in London were seeking advice for welfare benefits, debt, immigration and employment issues. Services have been struggling to meet the demand. Drivers of increased demand for advice include changes to disability benefits, the roll out of Universal Credit, the no recourse to public funds immigration policy, a shift to online processes for claiming benefits and Brexit. The situation is worse this year due to the impact of coronavirus.         

The provision of advice in London was found to fall short of the high level of demand with 75% of survey respondents informing of gaps or shortages in social welfare advice in their area. Young people and ethnic minority communities are least likely to easily access advice services although they are more likely to need them. People living in deprived areas of outer London boroughs were found to have greater need for advice yet less accessible services than those in inner London.                                                                   

Whilst facing a backlog of clients, advice organisations are having to cope with depleting funding and resources as well as switching services to remote delivery in response to Covid-19. One in seven advice services reported being told to expect future funding cuts from local authorities and 50% said they didn’t know what the future held.            

Despite the many challenges the advice sector finds innovative ways to deliver advice to those who need it most, such as providing services in health settings, training community ‘intermediaries’ who encounter people with social welfare issues and harnessing pro bono legal support. However, this is not enough to plug the gaps left by funding cuts.         

The report calls for the Greater London Authority to establish a social welfare advice hub for strategic action and for central government to implement the recommendation from the Low Commission (2013) to provide a National Advice and Legal Support Fund of £50 million per year for England and Wales.