The Trust’s head of public affairs Matt Hartley gives an update on the cross-government Fairness Group, which brings together government departments and agencies with the advice sector and has today published a joint Public Statement.
Today sees an important milestone for the Fairness Group, which brings together central and local government, the debt advice sector and the debt collection industry to improve how the government interacts with people in debt.
I have been pleased to represent the Money Advice Trust, alongside colleagues from other debt advice charities and the Money and Pensions Service, on this cross-government group, which was set up by the Cabinet Office in 2016 in recognition of long-standing calls for government debt collection practices to improve.
These conversations are never easy and it has taken a while to get to this point – but real progress has been made over the last year or so, in particular. The painstaking work that has gone in to reaching agreement on the way forward is beginning to pay off, with today’s publication by the Cabinet Office of a new Public Statement which outlines the group’s approach.
“The government established a Fairness Group in 2016, bringing central and local government, the debt advice sector, and the debt collection industry together. The aim is to continually improve how government interacts with people in debt, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances and/or experiencing financial hardship by:
• understanding the impact that debt collection practices can have and how to improve them
• implementing a joint programme of work to further examine practices in central and local government debt management which support vulnerable people, and make evidence based recommendations for change
• applying Fairness Principles to government debt management, in line with sector best practice
• balancing the statutory and societal obligations of government to collect debts and ongoing liabilities, and prevent fraudulent activity, with the need to ensure fairness”
Alongside signs that the Ministry of Justice is genuinely listening on bailiff reform, MHCLG’s new review of Council Tax collection, and the Treasury’s ongoing development of Breathing Space, this statement from the Fairness Group shows there is plenty for the advice sector to be optimistic about on the public policy front.
The real test, of course, will be translating today’s public commitment into tangible changes in the way that departments and agencies interact with people in financial difficulty – and then holding government to account to ensure delivery.
Read the Fairness Group’s joint Public Statement at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fairness-group-joint-public-statement