Affordability and assistance in the water sector

Andrew White CCWIn recent years, the Trust has reported significant increases in the number of people falling behind with utilities and other household bills. In a guest blog, Andrew White, Senior Policy Manager at the Consumer Council for Water, outlines some of the ways in which the water sector is responding to the challenges of affordability.

Whilst fuel poverty has continued to grab many headlines, a quiet revolution has been taking place in the water sector. Over the last few years the Consumer Council for Water has been working with water companies to ensure that more help is available than ever before for the 1 in 8 customers who tell us that their water and sewerage bill is not affordable.

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Helping advisers to support clients with deficit budgets

IMG_6609_jpg[1] NDL image used for budget deficit courseThe Trust’s Head of Learning and Development, Lyndsey Humphries, explains how a new Wiseradviser course is being launched to help advisers deal with a growing problem for money and debt advice clients across the UK…

With the first month of 2017 drawing to a close, National Debtline has already experienced its busiest January in years – and amidst uncertain economic times, advisers in agencies across the UK will be expecting further increases in demand in the coming months and years.

One feature of this demand is the growing number of clients who present at advice agencies whose income simply does not match their essential expenditure.

This is part of a prolonged shift in the nature of debt problems in the UK since the financial crisis – with proportionally fewer people getting into difficulty with what you might call ‘traditional’ credit products like credit cards and loans, and increased numbers falling into arrears on everyday household bills.

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Understanding further the impact of the FCA’s work

Andrew Bailey listening in, 31 Oct 2016In a guest post for the Trust’s blog, FCA CEO Andrew Bailey reflects on his recent visit to National Debtline and Business Debtline in Birmingham, and expands on the regulator’s current call for input on high cost credit.

As CEO of the UK’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, I am very conscious that the decisions we make have far reaching implications and consequences for real people. I believe that it is important for me, and my colleagues, to understand what the impact of our work is on the people who use financial services – which is pretty much everyone in the UK.

I recently spent an afternoon meeting staff at the Money Advice Trust. I listened to calls on National Debtline and Business Debtline and met with a number of front line advisers to understand the issues that they are currently dealing with. I would make a number of observations about my visit. I was struck by the dedication and focus that everyone working for Money Advice Trust brought to their work. There was a feeling from everyone I met that they were making a real difference. I listened in to several calls, each unique, and was extremely impressed by the breadth and depth of knowledge that advisers needed in order to deal with the calls. I spent some time discussing debt issues with a number of the advisers after listening in to calls and gained valuable insights into the types of cases that they dealt with on a daily basis. Read more

 

#FeelsLikeChristmas and the difference that free debt advice can make

Feels Like Christmas Twitter imageLast week the Trust launched our #FeelsLikeChristmas campaign, aiming to highlight the real difference that free debt advice can make at what we know can be a challenging time of year financially for many households.

The campaign includes a #FeelsLikeChristmas video with National Debtline clients sharing their experiences of getting free debt advice – and you can hear the very real relief in their voices.

Money worries can have a huge impact on your life at any time – but our research found they are putting Christmas at risk for up to five million people, showing what an extremely difficult time of year this can be. This is also, of course, a busy time of year – and it is easy to see why many people don’t want to deal with financial problems in December.

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A spotlight on young people, mobile phones and financial difficulty

Earlier this year the Money Borrowed YearsAdvice Trust launched Borrowed Years, our new campaign to raise awareness of free debt advice amongst 18 to 24 year olds – a group that we know is under-represented amongst the people that contact National Debtline and other agencies for advice.

So far the campaign has generated more than 160 items of media coverage, and its launch led to the busiest day to the National Debtline website in 2016 so far, including visits to our tips for 18 to 24 year olds.

In our first spotlight in August, we looked at young people’s experiences of credit, debt and borrowing – finding that 37% of 18 to 24 year olds are already in debt, while around half are regularly worrying about their personal finances. Our second spotlight focused on borrowing from family and friends and the vital ‘safety net’ that this provides for many under 25s.

Today we launch our third and final spotlight, looking at this age group’s experience with mobile phones – a near-necessity for all, and unfortunately, a source of financial difficulty for some.

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What might the Autumn Statement bring for JAMs?

shutterstock_258751613Tomorrow lunchtime the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, gives his first widely anticipated and heavily trailed Autumn Statement. Much has changed since the last major fiscal event, the Budget in March when George Osborne was still at the helm. For the new government, Wednesday will be a key opportunity to set out its stall in more concrete terms than we’ve heard over the past few months, and demonstrate that the focus on the domestic policy agenda hasn’t been lost of amidst the enormous task of implementing Brexit.

We’ve been taking a look at what’s expected to be announced in the context of the Trust’s work with people and small business owners in debt and financial difficulty and what else we’d like to see.

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Freedom at a cost? Challenges for the debt advice sector in the new pensions landscape

shutterstock_355590383The new pension freedoms which came in from April 2015 are proving to be quite a challenge in the debt advice world.  All those people over 55 with a defined contribution pension can now access their pension savings in various ways.  People can now take 25% of the pot as a one-off tax-free lump sum and choose how to invest the rest of the pension pot with no requirement to take out an annuity.  This poses the question, should we ever advise people to use their pension to pay back their debts?

The implications for debt advisers need to be given careful thought.  In the free debt advice sector, we are authorised by the FCA to offer debt advice to the public, usually under the limited permissions regime.  We are not generally authorised to provide financial advice about ‘retail investment products’ such as pensions.  We can provide generic guidance about pensions but cannot go any further.

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#stopthecharge for the debt and mental health doctor’s note

Rose ActonIn a guest post for the Trust’s blog, Rose Acton – Policy and Research Officer at The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute – shares and update on the new #stopthecharge campaign.

This month Money and Mental Health have launched a campaign to stop the charge for the debt and mental health doctor’s note, and we are delighted that Money Advice Trust, along with a number of other leading debt and mental health charities, have publicly backed the campaign.

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Bankruptcy mythbusting – new materials from the Insolvency Service

Insolvency Service bankruptcy header 600 300In a guest post for the Trust’s blog, Adriana Hawthorne, Publications/Content Manager at The Insolvency Service, shares an update on new materials on bankruptcy mythbusting.

I began learning about bankruptcy when I joined the Insolvency Service’s Online Debt Solutions (ODS) team. This team was working to design, create and launch the new online bankruptcy application.

One of the team’s main aims was to ensure that the new application was easy for individuals to use. To achieve this, we relied on regular user testing both with members of the public and with debt advisers.

Through this user testing, we came to realise how many misconceptions and fears still exist regarding bankruptcy. Individuals who took part in the research all self-identified as being in unmanageable debt, and yet many didn’t know anything about bankruptcy and were also nervous about getting debt advice.

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The importance of consistency when considering people’s finances when they are in debt

Sheila WheelerIn a guest post for the Trust’s blog, Sheila Wheeler, Director for UK Debt Advice at the Money Advice Service, shares an update on the new Standard Financial Statement (SFS).

For people with problem debt, seeking advice is the first important step they will take on their road to getting their finances back on track. They may be stressed or embarrassed about their situation and there may be a range of other issues which need resolving to help improve their finances. With this in mind we need to make the process of assessing affordability as effective and easy as possible.

Building on the principles and format of the current Common Financial Statement (CFS), operated by the Money Advice Trust on behalf of the sector, the Standard Financial Statement (SFS), which will go live on 1st March 2017, will bring greater consistency to this process. The SFS will provide a single format for assessing income and expenditure for over-indebted people. It will also include a savings category to help people build financial resilience while repaying their debts. This important addition is intended to help people in debt to withstand unexpected costs and give them a solid financial footing once they are debt free. It will also help to encourage them to recognise the importance of saving and to continue this in the future.

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