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Financial inclusion high on Council’s agenda, with range of initiatives under way to help people control their finances and secure jobs

Helping people get control of their finances and reduce their debt is at the heart of a range of initiatives being rolled out by Swindon Borough Council.

Financial inclusion is high on the Council’s list of priorities and pledges, and considerable strides have been made recently by the Council’s Social Inclusion and Welfare Manager to help residents manage their money better, keep energy costs down and improve their employment opportunities, as well as promoting access to bank accounts and even achieve a better diet.

One particular success story in the past few weeks is the increase in Credit Union membership, with Wiltshire Savings & Loans helping people with affordable credit on reasonable terms, instead of turning to unscrupulous lenders out of desperation.

Credit Union membership promotes regular saving and gives the public and business the chance to be more financially ‘savvy’, adopt payroll schemes and keep away from pay day lenders, loan sharks and pawn brokers.

A collection point has now been established in Penhill on Tuesday afternoons for residents, and membership is steadily increasing, with numbers standing at almost 100 and £25,000 worth of loans issued in this responsible way.

Last week (6 September) the Council’s Cabinet also agreed to underwrite credit union loans, to be granted by the Credit Union instead of Council funded Local Welfare Assistance, for the purchase of kitchen appliances or furniture to households in emergency need.

Also being rolled out are Swindon Energy Matters, Swindon Money Matters, a Money Mentors service and Financial Inclusion seminars.

Swindon Energy Matters has been developed by the Council’s Energy Efficiency team and Swindon Money Matters. The campaign, which is being launched next week, is helping people to look at switching opportunities and drive down energy bills.

For some people, this could be a saving of up to £616 a year, with the chance of getting Cash Back of up to £30 for an on-line switch, or £22 for switching via the helpline.

For Swindon Money Matters, the Revenues & Benefits area of the Council’s website has been upgraded with the financial inclusion ‘offer’ re-branded as well as extensive new information being showcased, such as Universal Credit, debt management and affordable credit.

A complementary Swindon Money Matters Facebook page also offers a wealth of financial information.

The Council has also assisted Citizens Advice to appoint two Money Mentors. Funded by the Department of Works and Pensions and the Housing Revenue Account, they are on hand at Citizens Advice to help residents affected by the lower Benefits Cap as well assisting other low income households. The mentors receive referrals direct from housing officers and the “troubled families” support workers.

Financial Inclusion Seminars are also coming on stream, attended by Council officers and representatives from a range of Swindon advice agencies to provide people with financial advice and information.

Over 50 front-line advisors have attended the seminars including housing officers, social workers and support workers from local charities such as Mind and the Swindon Advocacy Movement.

Other ideas being considered include changes to the Council’s Local Welfare Scheme, where Credit Unions might be able to operate low interest loans to people needing furniture or kitchen appliances, and training and employment for people finding it difficult to get a job, with social enterprises encouraged to build a sustainable business around them as employees.

Cllr Russell Holland, Deputy Leader of Swindon Borough Council and Cabinet Member for Finance and Commercialisation, said:

"It's a privilege to be a Councillor and to be able to work alongside all the many people both in the public, private and voluntary sector who do so much to help those most in need in our town.  Swindon is a great place to live because of the people who live here and I invite everyone to think about what they might do to help others around them."