Advice services struggle to cope with huge amounts of demand they shouldn’t have to deal with – mostly generated by public services failing to do something, or do something right, for their customers. When we’ve studied, we’ve found this preventable demand making up 30 to 40% of the demand for advice.

Addressing this failure and waste not only frees capacity in advice organisations, it also has a positive impact on the quality of the public service. In Nottingham, advice services and the local authority worked together to change the way they dealt with benefits problems. Independent evaluation showed that the time taken to process cases fell in the advice service from 142.2 days to 30.8 days. For the benefits services it fell from 56.3 to 16.3 days.

And it’s not just the drain on capacity and resources. In Coventry, we worked with new economics foundation to produce a Social Return on Investment analysis of the cost of failure in the system for the individuals (called Social Cost) and for wider public services (Cost to State).

Case study Social Cost Cost to State Total Cost
Debt – late intervention £19,207 £9,511 £28,718
Debt – early intervention £7,746 £1,521 £9,267
Housing – late intervention £8,837 £5,287 £14,124
Housing – early intervention £1,516 £1,516


More recently, AdviceUK has worked with advice providers and commissioners in Portsmouth, leading to a new advice service – Advice Portsmouth – being commissioned using systems thinking principles. By studying demand for advice together, commissioners and providers learned what mattered to the people using the service and could design to deliver just that.

Systems thinking helped commissioners agree a clear purpose and a set of principles to underpin the new service, based on their knowledge of client demand and what mattered to people. However, providers were free to design a service without prescribed processes or targets, and the results have been dramatic. The new approach also means that the relationship between the service and the commissioners has changed from a contractual one to a partnership in which measures and data are used to understand what works and to continuously improve.

Click on the link below to read about the Portsmouth experience

Breaking the Mould – Portsmouth