Vulnerability is high on the agenda for energy suppliers

Audrey GallacherThe Money Advice Trust and Energy UK launched a new guide for energy suppliers on vulnerability and mental health. In this guest post, Audrey Gallacher, Director of Retail Energy Supply at Energy UK, shares her thoughts on the guide and why it is needed.

The energy market is changing at a rapid pace and looks very different to what it did just two years ago. There are more suppliers in the market and more people switching as the market grows more competitive in response to consumer engagement.

Despite this, companies must remain one step ahead in ensuring they’re able to address the needs of all customers. Mental health matters and any one of us, at any time, could have to face the challenges brought on by poor mental health.

That is why energy companies need to ensure they have the right systems, processes and staff training in place to help customers who may suffer poor mental health and experience the challenges that this can bring.

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Behaviour theory and its application to advice: minimising missed appointments

menu_bgAs the Money Advice Trust launches its new Wiseradviser Behavioural Theory e-learning and the Money Advice Service publishes new research on this important subject, Roni Marsh, head of the debt team at South West London Law Centres (SWLLC), shares her learning about behaviour science and its application to advice.

Our challenge:

One of the biggest challenges we at SWLLC face, and one I’m sure most free service providers face, is getting people to turn up to their appointments. We’re really busy and missed appointments have a direct impact on other people by increasing their waiting time, as well as having financial implications for us.

How behavioural science helped:

Traditional communications – posters, leaflets, emails, phone calls – are our main method of engaging over-indebted people. But because we are a relatively small organisation we have to produce everything ourselves, and because we’re so busy this means we often just stick with what we’ve done before. This is why working with Ogilvy Change and the Money Advice
Service has been really helpful, as well as interesting.

By applying a behavioural approach to how we communicate with our clients we have reduced the number of missed appointments. We also had a great response from the clients who engaged during the project – they have really appreciated the changes we made.

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Creditors can do more to support customers with addictions. Here’s how.

Addictions course image sized for BlogThe Trust’s Vulnerability Lead Chris Fitch, looks at the challenge of supporting customers with gambling, alcohol and substance addictions, and how the Trust’s new face-to-face training can help.

I have been talking to creditors about customers in vulnerable circumstances for the last 10 years – and the good news is that there has never been a greater focus on this agenda than there is now. The better news is that this focus is widening all the time.

As Joanna Elson argued on this blog in March, there was a time when vulnerability was synonymous with mental health, but there is ample evidence that this is changing, Creditors are increasingly looking at the full range other vulnerable circumstances – and gambling, alcohol and substance misuse is near the top of this list.

A quick dip into my latest research, co-authored with Colin Trend, shows why this is the case. More than one in four frontline creditor staff (27 percent) report they find it difficult to talk about addictions with customers – more than any other type of vulnerable situation. We found that staff are often confronted with little or no organisational policy to help them with this issue, and are particularly concerned over how customers will react.

That’s a problem – particularly when you consider that nearly one in ten frontline staff (8 percent) and more than one in four specialist staff (28 percent) encounter customers with an addiction ‘most days’ or ‘every day’.

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Thoughts on the FCA’s credit card proposals

As this week’s Bank of England figures show, credit card balances continuing to surge, the Trust’s policy manager Meg van Rooyen reviews the Financial Conduct Authority’s new proposals on persistent debt and early intervention.

The latest lending figures from the Bank of England, out this week, show credit card balances are continuing to grow by half a billion pounds each month. With consumer credit across the board surging by 10 per cent a year, here at the Trust we continue to be concerned that many households are leaving themselves exposed to financial difficulty if their circumstances change.

Persistent credit card debt is a key feature of the UK’s household debt problem, with the FCA finding 1.6 million people repeatedly paying only the minimum payments on their credit cards.

In April 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) made a series of proposals to address the issue of persistent credit card debt, as part of its overall package of remedies from its credit card market study.

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Exploring the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill – a debt advice perspective

shutterstock_258751613The Trust’s director of external affairs Jane Tully takes a look at the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill as it starts its journey through parliament.

After a rather lengthy process involving no less than three consultations, the government has finally settled on a plan for the future delivery of money, debt and pensions advice. Earlier this month the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill finally entered parliament, starting in the House of Lords, a clear sign that the Government expect the bill to pass without too much controversy.

What does the Bill cover?

The Bill provides the legislative framework for the technocratic sounding ‘single financial guidance body’ – a new Non-Departmental Public Body which, assuming the legislation is enacted, will be in place by mid-2018. This replaces the Money Advice Service, The Pension Advisory Service (TPAS) and PensionWise, and will centralise the government’s pensions, debt and money guidance offer for consumers.

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Nudging tools for money advisers launch event

Behaviour Change Twitter image 1024 512 v3The Trust’s Insight and Innovation Grants Officer Timon Scheven blogs about our launch of the ‘Nudging Tools for Money Advisers’ toolkit, developed by Behaviour Change.

It was fantastic to see so many people from across the advice sector, government and creditors at the launch this morning – the lively discussion highlighted the interest in how we can use behavioural science to better engage and support people with unmanageable debt.

Joanna Elson, our chief executive, really set the scene for me when she talked about how the advice sector has impressive expertise and empathy in working with people in debt, but is still on a journey to understanding how to best give advice (and raise awareness of advice) so that it ‘lands’ as intended with the people we support. Essentially giving (and signposting to) good advice in a way that consistently enables people to take action or change their behaviour for the better. This idea is at the heart of our Innovation Grants programme; trying new innovative ideas to make debt and money advice work better.

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High hopes for the Goods Mortgage Bill – but the FCA should act now

shutterstock_258751613The Trust’s Policy Manager Meg van Rooyen looks at the new Goods Mortgage Bill included in the Queen’s Speech.

In an eventful few weeks at Westminster – to say the least – a new piece of legislation appeared in the Queen’s Speech designed to tackle a long-running cause for concern in the advice sector.

Why reform logbook loans?

Bills of sale are commonly used to secure a “logbook loan” on goods you already own, usually your car. This is a form of high-cost lending that has been a source of considerable problems and caused substantial consumer detriment. Based on legislation that dates back to the 19th century, bills of sale are an archaic lending vehicle with obscure and complex rules that has no place in a modern society. The lending products offered using bills of sale are both oppressive and enforced unfairly and the advice sector has repeatedly raised concerns about logbook loans. It seemed particularly unfair that people who have innocently bought a second hand car with no knowledge of an existing logbook loan attached to the car, can still lose the vehicle.

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Vulnerability: a guide for lending

vulnerability - a guide for lending FRONT COVERYesterday saw the launch of Vulnerability: a guide for lending; an important new report aiming to help firms better identify and support customers with mental capacity limitations during credit applications. The report is produced by the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre and funded by the Finance & Leasing Association and UK Cards Association. It is supported by the Trust and key trade bodies for financial services – FLA, BBA, CML, CSA, BSA, UK Cards Association.

Mental capacity limitations can result in customers having significant problems with understanding, remembering, and evaluating information about credit products they are applying for, as well as communicating a decision about this.

Where not identified, these can result in detriment including borrowing, lending and contracts that results in ‘later downstream’ financial difficulty and problem debt. We see the implications of this every day at National Debtline, and are keen to work closely with financial services and other sectors such as telecoms (e.g. when signing customers up for mobile phone and other telecoms contracts) and motor finance (e.g. when entering car leasing agreements) to improve early identification and prevent the build-up of debt.

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The Money Advice Trust signs up to the Living Wage Friendly Funder scheme

WeAreALivingWage FFThe Trust’s director of external affairs Jane Tully blogs about the Trust’s Living Wage Friendly Funder announcement.

Through our work at National Debtline, we recognise the role that fair pay plays in enabling people to balance their finances and manage their debts. The Living Wage scheme has played a significant role in addressing low pay across the UK and is backed up by calculations that reflect the real cost of living – which is all the more important at a time of economic uncertainty and rising inflation.

We are therefore pleased to announce that we have become a Living Wage Friendly Funder, accredited by the Living Wage Foundation – building on the previous accreditation we gained in 2015 as a Living Wage Employer.

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Accessing debt information and advice on the move

NDL mobile homepageThis week the Trust launched a revamped version of our National Debtline website, here Rosie Thompson, Head of Digital Advice Services, explains some of the changes.

Since the National Debtline website was launched in 2014, we’ve come a long way and so has technology. In the first quarter of 2017 the site received 58% more visits from mobiles compared to last year, showing that people are comfortable accessing debt information and advice on the move. Stats from Ipsos Tech Tracker in the last quarter of 2016 also showed that smartphone ownership in the UK is now at 74%, with the top three activities being; emails (69%), social media (54%) and browsing websites (48%).

We have created a mobile ‘burger’ menu and search for mobile devices, as well as further optimising the site for mobile. This means for the first time mobile visitors can navigate around the site and experience lots of our pages adjusting automatically to their screen size.

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