Martin Lewis, founder and editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, has joined a 'challenger panel' in a bid to make radical improvements to the Money Advice Service (MAS), after an independent review criticised the way it is run.
Lewis first raised concerns about the MAS when he was called to give evidence on it in 2012. At the time, he said: "If the product wasn't crap I would think it might be a good idea, but its product is abominable and I'd be embarrassed to put most of its tools on my website."
But the panel he has joined will scrutinise the MAS's work and look at how to address some of the questions raised in an independent review of the service authored by Christine Farnish, who has been chairwoman of Consumer Futures and head of the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF).
In Farnish's report, which was published in March, she revealed that the MAS had spent £50 million on marketing its website since it started four years ago, while it had spent an overall £208.9 million on the service over the same time period.
She questioned the value achieved by the MAS and made a number of recommendations to help strengthen the MAS's debt advice and to deliver financial education to consumers.
At the time, she wrote: "MAS will need to recruit new skills and, to a degree, change its mind-set. It will need to work more as a strategic coordinator, sitting at the heart of the landscape and acting fairly and squarely on the consumer side. MAS has already started on this journey but more remains to be done. This will require strong leadership and governance."
MoneySavingExpert.com was consulted in detail as part of the independent review, and many of our suggestions were incorporated into Farnish's response. See the Ask Ma how to waste £50 million MSE News story for more on this.
It's because of the report that this expert advisory panel has been set up to counsel the MAS on how to address concerns.
The review was originally commissioned by the Treasury in May 2014 and was set up following criticism of the service by MPs on the all-party Treasury Select Committee.
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The role of the panel
Formally known as the Post Independent Review Response Independent Panel, the group consists of experts and practitioners from the industry, consumer groups, the voluntary sector and academia.
Other panellists include Clinton Askew, chairman of the Financial Conduct Authority Smaller Business Practitioner Panel, and Sue Lewis, chairwoman of the Financial Services Consumer Panel. Jonathan Douglas, an MAS board member, will chair the new group.
The MAS says: "The purpose of the panel is to provide expert opinion, to offer different perspectives and constructive challenges in reviewing the fundamental issues raised by the review in relation to money advice, and to work towards building a stronger service."
The next step is for the MAS to submit a report to the Government in the autumn in which it addresses the concerns raised and puts forward its strategy on how it will improve. The panel will work with it on this report.