Advice Quality Standard

AQS - Do I need it? Do I want it?

Information for agencies funded by Bristol City Council, South Gloucestershire Council and the Money Advice Service (June 2015 Update)

History

In October 2012 a briefing paper was issued by ACFA concerning which funders required agencies to have the Advice Quality Standard, as a criteria of funding. It stated that all BCC and SGC funded agencies were required to have the (then) Legal Services Commission General Help Quality Mark (GHQM) as a base minimum. This was instigated by The Advice Network and was welcomed by ACFA members in order to help gain some continuity, and minimum standards of quality, across advice services provided by its members. The GHQM was taken over by Advice Services Alliance and became the Advice Quality Standard (AQS).

The AQS v1

In January 2014 the AQS became the AQSv1. This latest version incorporates additional criteria required by the Money Advice Service, and all MAS funded services will be required to hold the AQSv1 from April 2014. You cannot choose which version you apply for - all applications whether new, or made within the last 6 months of 2013, will be required to meet the AQSv1, whether you receive MAS funding or not.

Auditors

Recognising Excellence have been appointed as the auditors of the AQS (taking over from The Assessment Network (TAN)) and all information can be found on the RE website:
http://www.recognisingexcellence.co.uk/Advice_Quality_Standard
(The Advice Services Alliance website still takes you to the old documentation so do not use these documents as they are now out of date: http://www.advicequalitystandard.org.uk/advice-agencies-and-funders/information-for-advice-agencies )
Recognising Excellence will be making a press release on Monday 7th April 2014 with regard to their new relationship with MAS.

Funders

ACFA contacted BCC and SGC on behalf of members to check whether they still required all agencies to hold the AQS.

Bristol City Council

BCC stated: “They expect that the advice organisations that are funded £50k or more per year are to have the Advice Quality Standard, these are the ring-fenced agencies (St Paul’s Advice Centre, Talking Money, North Bristol Advice Centre, South Bristol Advice Centre, Bristol CAB, Avon & Bristol Law Centre) and WECIL.” For all other organisations that are funded through the Stronger Communities Grant (other than WECIL) BCC want organisations to have in place a more generic quality standard of which there are two options:
1. C3, a locally development self-assessment improvement tool (free) http://www.c3partnership.org/
2. Pre-Visible that provides a framework for organisations to ensure that they are fit for purpose and legally compliant (£450 plus VAT) http://www.visiblecommunities.org.uk/index.php?page=10.”
Visible is listed in BCC’s Community Investment Strategy as the standard they would also expect from all grant funded Centres for Community Action.

South Glos Council

SGC stated: "At the time of commission it was a requirement to hold an up to date and relevant Community Legal Service Quality Mark or working towards its award. However, similar marks of quality are also permissible but agreement must be sought by the supplier."

Money Advice Service Quality Framework

In October 2013, the Money Advice Service requested that all advice sector quality marks be put forward for a mapping exercise against their own funding quality framework. The MAS Quality Framework had been devised in order to support any future grant making rounds by helping establish which organisations show the best practices in relation to the provision of money advice and debt counselling services. MAS felt it would be more straight-forward and less onerous on organisations to accredit existing standards which many organisations already hold rather than re auditing every organisation applying for future MAS funds. The new amendments were incorporated and the AQSv1 has been agreed as the new MAS Standard.
MAS stated: “Organisations that receive funding from the Money Advice Service will be required to demonstrate that they meet our Quality Framework by April 2014.”

Grants for Organisational Development‏

There is currently a possible funding stream open for charities to apply for help to strengthen their organisation and this includes: staff training, business and service developments, development of monitoring systems, organisational mergers and shared services, consultancy support and quality standards.
Further information can be found at Lloyds Bank Foundation – Enable Programme:
http://www.lloydsbankfoundation.org.uk/our-programmes/enable

Please feel free to contact me if any of this is not clear or you would like to discuss further.
I am available as a Freelance Consultant if any agencies would like help to get their organisation ready to apply for the AQS, or would like help completing the AQS Workbook/Application Form. If required, I am able to manage the process through to the Audit stage.

Cas Brooks

Freelance Consultant

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