Through our Standards Support service, we guide organisations through a range of quality assurance standards, including the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers. Kenny Bowie, Senior Debt Advice Officer at Falkirk Council has written a blog on his experience of our Standards Support service. 

Why Money Advice Scotland 

The Falkirk Council Debt Advice Team first sought Standards Support from Money Advice Scotland  because, in truth, we really didn’t know where to start and did not have the confidence to go it alone.  The decision to work with an organisation like Money Advice Scotland was not a difficult one to make as they had the reputation, knowledge and expertise which we needed to help us achieve Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers (SNSIAP) accreditation.  We wanted someone who could provide ‘hands-on’ guidance and support and someone who would be available to us throughout the whole process. 

Getting started 

Money Advice Scotland gave us a free consultation to start with, during which we discussed where we felt we currently were positioned in relation to meeting the requirements of the Standards and they explained the different levels of support which were available to us.  A Service Level Agreement was drawn up between us to ensure both parties understood expectations, responsibilities and timelines. 

All of our policies and procedures were reviewed and a traffic light system (RAG) was used to assess whether the policies were relevant and cohesive with the Standards.  Regular feedback meetings took place where recommendations were made as to what adjustments we might consider and through time, we gradually saw the number of documents assessed as ‘green’ increasing.  It was a good way to measure our progress.   


Highlights of the process include the two separate mock audits carried out once our documentation had reached the required levels.  The first one, in particular, was a nervous experience for all involved; however, it could not have prepared us any better for the real deal on 21st March 2019.  The mock audits tested the team’s knowledge, awareness and compliance with our own policies and procedures and it actually put me in a situation which I hadn’t been in before, where I was seeing my team through someone else’s eyes.  Personally, I took great pride watching my advisers answering questions and dealing with scenarios in a confident and professional manner, demonstrating their knowledge and evidencing their compliance with the Standards.  The added benefit to the mock audits was that it gave the advisers a focus and a determination that hadn’t quite been fully rounded before in relation to the Standards – it seemed to help things fall into place for them.

Overcoming unexpected issues 

Whilst working towards accreditation, we were faced with an unexpected issue when the Scottish Government decided that agencies providing both debt and welfare benefit advice within the same department would need to apply for accreditation together and at the same time. This presented a problem for us because our Debt Team had progressed down this road much further than the Welfare Benefits Team.  Money Advice Scotland was able to deal with this setback in a positive way, and the Quality Assurance Consultant quickly built relationships with the Welfare Benefits Team to ensure everyone was up to speed. If we didn’t have Money Advice Scotland to support us, this could have been a real issue.

Experience of working with Money Advice Scotland 

Working with Money Advice Scotland was an enjoyable experience throughout the whole time we were involved with them. Regular communication took place via email, telephone calls or face to face meetings.  Any assistance we required was dealt with efficiently and professionally and they were flexible whenever our service had any unexpected issues to deal with.  They worked to high standards and their attention to detail exceeded all our expectations.

The commitment shown by Money Advice Scotland to help us become accredited could not be questioned; there was definitely a joint determination on both sides to ensure we successfully passed.

Now we are an accredited agency, we feel that our organisation has grown in reputation, not only with our own local authority area, but further afield.  More and more organisations are now contacting us looking for advice regarding how we follow different processes and how we evidenced or approached the different Standards.  At some stage in the future, we hope that by being an accredited agency, it may make us more attractive to funding providers as they will get to know the SNS framework that we work to and recognise the high-quality service that we provide.  

I would have no hesitation in recommending Money Advice Scotland’s  Standards Support Service to any organisation.  It is not easy to open up your team to an external evaluator, but at no point did I ever feel that we were being judged or criticised.  I was confident that the advice being given to us was accurate and up to date and I always felt we were being supported through the process. The questions we were being asked made us think about the service we delivered and with a few tweaks, we have made huge improvements to our service delivery which benefits both advisers and clients, for example; the staff team now take more ownership in their personal development and we also place much more emphasis on our customer surveys which keep us in touch with how our service feels to our users.  All in all, we consider ourselves to be a more professional and streamlined operation now. 

Well worth the money 

We decided to invest in the specialist help from Money Advice Scotland because we felt that although there was a cost involved, the benefit was that that whilst we were going through this process, the service to our clients never had to be compromised.  Had we done things differently, we would have to have used more of our own internal resources which would have meant cutting down on the number of appointments we could offer our clients which, for the clients, could have had far-reaching consequences.

Some organisations may feel that they are not in a position to adopt the approach that we used due to on-going budget restrictions; however, I would urge anyone who is considering applying for accreditation to do a cost-benefit analysis and consider the impact that going-it-alone might have on the service. 

From our perspective, using Money Advice Scotland was well worth the money as it saved us a considerable amount of time and resources that we didn’t have to spare.

We also benefitted from having that unique, independent insight that someone from outside our team could bring; an ability to identify things at a glance; things that myself or my team would miss because we are too involved in the day to day stuff.

We would describe working with Money Advice Scotland in one sentence as an organisation which is approachable, forward thinking, friendly, and always willing to go above and beyond.

For more information on our Standards Support service, contact [email protected]