Voluntary and Community Sector Support Programme - Independent Advice and Debt Reference Group

To assist in the development of refreshed policy, funding and delivery frameworks for independent advice and debt services, we have carried out extensive engagement at different locations throughout NI over the past few months. We have engaged with, and will continue to engage with, people from a wide range of organisations, to draw together their collective experiences, understand key priorities and needs, listen to ideas and opinions, and add voice and input to help us to shape future programmes for whom the refresh will deliver. 


In addition to seeking views from sectoral representatives and ensuring broad representation across stakeholder groups, a reference group has also been established. Reference group members will discuss the outcomes of engagement sessions, provide specific focus on certain topics and offer general advice.

Reference group members comprise of a range of sectoral interests, through which we will draw on lived experience, expertise, and knowledge, and together explore a range of insights and ideas in the design of new approaches.

A list of reference group members are noted below:

Organisation Member
Advice NI Bob Stronge
Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council Boyd McClurg
Belfast City Council Margaret Higgins
Disability Action Nuala Toman
South Tyrone Empowerment Programme NI Bernadette McAliskey
Community Advice Antrim & Newtownabbey Lorraine Adamson
Law Centre NI Ursula O’Hare
Money and Pensions Service Janine Maher
Mindwise Michele Loughran
Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network Louise Coyle
Housing Rights Kate McCauley
Community Advice Newry Mourne and Down Rose Marie McDonnell
Advice Space Pat Colton


10 November 2023

During this reference group meeting, the group were presented with the recommendations from the work of the 3 Task and Finish groups by a representative of each group:

Measuring Impact and Outcomes – Ursula O’ Hare – Law Centre NI
Quality Standards – Lorraine Adamson – Community Advice Antrim and Newtownabbey
Appeal and Tribunal Representation – Owen McCluskey – Law Centre NI

Reference group members were given the opportunity to ask any questions they may have on the above. The Strategic Investment Board (SIB) also advised that they would be taking recommendations alongside other evidence to incorporate into the policy framework document. An update was given in terms of key dates looking forward

8 August 2023

At the fifth reference group meeting, the Strategic Investment Board provided a re-cap on the key outcomes from Workshop 4- ‘Best Practice Review’- and discussed Workshop 5 on Debt Delivery, asking members to provide comments and feedback. Members also agreed the themes for each Task and Finish Group, which are, the Appeal and Representation Model, Impact and Outcomes, Quality Standards, and Development. In addition, members agreed that recommendations from each Task and Finish Group would feed into Stage 1 of the Evidence Gathering Stage.

20 June 2023

During the reference group meeting of Independent Advice and Debt, the Strategic Investment Board members provided a re-cap on all workshops taken place to date and discussed the theme of the next workshop ‘Best Practice’, with key finding from other jurisdictions presented to help shape and drive the discussion. Members were invited to provide comments and feedback. Further discussions also focused on stakeholder engagement and identifying gaps still to be addressed as part of the Evidence Gathering Stage. Members concluded by discussing the themes and scope for potential Task and Finish Groups to address key areas identified during discussions to date including Quality Standards for Independent Advice and Debt.

24 May 2023

During this reference group meeting, an update was provided on the other areas of work being undertaken under the Voluntary and Community Sector Support Programme. The Strategic Investment Board (SIB) also provided a recap on the key outcomes from Workshop 2 ‘The Need for Independent Advice’, as well as presenting outlines of Workshops 3 and 4, asking members to provide comments and feedback. It was also advised at this stage that there were key areas which would benefit from more focused discussion with expert input, in the form of Task and Finish groups, which was agreed by members. Members were also asked to share any relevant information they felt could contribute to this stage of the work: Evidence Gathering and Design.

3 May 2023

At the third Independent Advice and Debt reference group meeting, members agreed to invite further representatives onto the reference group. This included two further Independent Advice Services Managers, and a representative from both Housing Rights Service and NIFHA. Members were provided with feedback on the first workshop engagement event, held on the 27 April 2023 in Portadown Town Hall, with comments and feedback welcomed on further thematic design workshops. Further discussions also took place focusing on future engagement methods, timeline and stakeholders.

5 April 2023

At the second meeting of the Independent Advice and Debt Reference Group, members were provided with an overview and update on the Voluntary and Community Support Sector Programme. The Strategic Investment Board (SIB) provided an overview of Stage 1- Evidence Gathering and Design- including a proposed engagement plan, timeline, and a stakeholder matrix. SIB discussed the proposed first and second thematic design workshops with reference group members, welcoming feedback, and comments.

7 March 2023

The Independent Advice and Debt Reference Group’s first meeting was very productive, with membership welcoming the opportunity to advise and shape the development of a fresh policy and funding framework. The discussion was rich and constructive which included a review of the roles and responsibilities as set out in the Terms of Reference, with some suggestions in relation to themes for workshops and highlighting the importance of effective communications and engagement both for advice but also across the Programme.  

Find out more about the Voluntary and Community Sector Support Programme or the future plans relating to independent advice and debt.

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