PayPlan’s Vulnerable Client Manager, Emma Gibbons, blogs about the domestic abuse project she has been involved with, and how it ties into this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #EachforEqual.
Last week, my colleague Antony Price and I delivered our first domestic abuse and debt advice training course to colleagues in Citizens Advice. This was a huge moment for us. Not only was it the first iteration of this course whereby the attendees could claim points towards their Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) continuous professional development (CPD), but it was the acumination of a year and half’s dedicated work on our domestic abuse and debt project.
In December 2018, PayPlan’s CEO, Rachel Duffey, spoke to all colleagues about a TV appeal that she had seen on survivors of domestic abuse and questioned what more we could do to support people. Finances are often a barrier to people being able to leave a situation, and ongoing debt can link people together for years.
We started to become increasingly aware of how operational procedures could potentially be barriers to people seeking support and how industry practices were putting people in danger. News stories of banks sending out a ‘thank you for changing your address’ to domestic abuse survivors and perpetrators, containing both their old and new address became the thing of nightmares.
We knew we wanted to help but needed to figure out how…
I formed part of the domestic abuse working group and we quickly started talking to Broxtowe Women’s Project, based in Nottingham. Chris from Broxtowe came into PayPlan several times to talk through their domestic abuse training course. We were able to look at this and view it with our debt expert lenses on and look at how these risks play out in the advice world, and then in creditor communications. From that, our domestic abuse and debt advice course was born.
We didn’t stop there. As part of this project, we formed our internal safeguarding team. These volunteers are truly fantastic. They are there for members of staff who would like to raise a concern about a colleague or client, they’re there to look out for others – and you know what, they are there if someone just wants to chat.
Our policies and procedures also came under review – including the vulnerable client policy and newly created dedicated domestic abuse policy around spotting signs and ongoing support. Colleagues on the phones have systems in place too so that they can come off calls if they experience a distressing or concerning conversation and need some time to reflect.
Linking in with Refuge
In the second phase of our project, we began working with national domestic abuse charity, Refuge. Refuge, if your paths have not yet crossed, does a fantastic job to support women and children survivors of domestic abuse. The team really are on the frontline of dealing with so many inequalities in our systems and attitudes. They can predict patterns of behaviour and help survivors to inform people around them, like their employer, of what may be likely to happen over the next few months.
With their domestic abuse expertise, Refuge reviewed our internal processes – like how clients get in touch with us and the process they go through once they are registered with PayPlan. Refuge made some great suggestions of how our own processes and partner’s external processes could affect survivors.
From this, we saw a gap in services for people who are going through domestic abuse to seek debt advice and have since launched a pilot to support those people. Our working together addresses this aim. In turn, we have upskilled Refuge workers on the debt advice process in terms of how we conduct a budget assessment and hold periods like breathing space.
More awareness is needed
As you can see, this has been an intensive, interesting and high-risk project. This first set of external training sessions seem like a long time coming, but really, I’m so glad that we haven’t rushed into this. Instead, we’ve taken our time to speak to experts in this field, survivors, advisers and victims. Of course, this wasn’t a completely new area – we have been supporting such a wide scope of vulnerabilities in our dedicated team for years, but this project has made us think a little different about inequalities in systems and gender.
Going forward, we know there needs to be more awareness of domestic abuse and tools for people to understand the warning signs and next steps. We hope that we can play a small part in this work – and are here to support expert charities in this field with helping survivors to become financially capable.
Find out more about domestic abuse on the National Domestic Abuse website: www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ or call the free 24-hour helpline: 0808 2000 247