Posted June 15, 2022
Our CEO, Joanna Elson CBE, explores key highlights from our new 2021 Outcomes report.
Last year Covid-19 continued to impact households and businesses across the UK. Our National Debtline and Business Debtline services provided a lifeline to hundreds of thousands people hardest hit by its impact.
Whilst 2022 has brought additional challenges with the rising cost of living, the launch of our new Outcomes Report, provides the opportunity to reflect on what we saw last year and how we were able to help people tackle their debts and manage their money with confidence.
What we saw in 2021
A common theme amongst callers to National Debtline last year was difficulty in meeting household costs. Energy arrears was already rising amongst the people who contacted our advisers, and for the first time, became the most common priority debt people were struggling with at 23% up from 16% of callers in 2018.
Council tax bills remained high on the list of debts people got in touch for help with – 22% of callers were dealing with council tax debts – and around 1 in 6 callers to National Debtline had rent arrears.
Although the debts for household bills continued to rise, credit related debts remained a common issue with 26% of callers with credit arrears.
For Business Debtline callers, the picture was even more complex – many were still reeling from, or dealing with, the impact Covid had on their businesses and incomes. “Coronavirus” was, and continues to be, by far the most commonly cited reason for financial difficulty amongst Business Debtline callers (54%).
Credit card debts remained the most common debt type amongst Business Debtline callers, with many using of personal credit to top up business income. We know from our previous research, that the use of credit to fill business income gaps was common during the outbreak of Covid-19, with clear implications for cash flow and managing finances.
We also saw an increase in the proportion of callers struggling with their household bills, (similarly to what we saw at National Debtline).
Over the course of 2021, across National Debtline and Business Debtline, we helped more than 130,000 people by phone and through our digital advice tool. Our advisers supported over 40,000 people via our webchat service, and our advice websites saw more than 1.63m visits.
After our advice the vast majority of people we help feel in a much better position.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see the difference our advice makes to people who are struggling with debts – testament to the commitment our advisers show day in, day out.
Training more advisers than ever before
Through Wiseradviser, providing free training and resources to the free-to-client debt advice sector, we trained more advisers than ever before. Our service delivered 26,780 training places to more than 4,300 advisers across 1,010 organisations in the UK.
After adapting our training in 2020 to provide more online courses we have continued this work into 2022, with new courses and webinars to help with issues such as ‘Understanding the rising cost of living and supporting those in debt’. The team are to develop our resources to best support advisers in a rapidly changing debt landscape.
Supporting people in vulnerable circumstances
In 2021 our team of vulnerability experts delivered training to 3,690 staff in 45 creditor organisations across a range of sectors, from financial services to utilities and retail.
Our training and consultancy team adapted our resources to meet the needs of creditor staff and their customers in light of the pandemic. This included through our “Working in a crisis” resources.
The positive feedback we received from creditor staff has been great to see, with 98% of virtual classroom attendees rating their tutor as good or excellent.
It has also been good to see the positive steps taken by creditors, and regulators, and the increased focus on supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances in the wake of Covid-19.
Influencing the debt policy landscape
With the cost of living rising further this year and with little sign of it abating anytime soon, our concern is that more people will find themselves in difficulty and in need of debt advice.
However, there were a number of positive developments in the debt policy world last year, as we continued to use the insight from our advice services to inform our influencing work. We helped secure much needed improvements to debt relief orders, and working with others our campaigning work led to the Insolvency Service committing to a review of the wider debt options landscape.
We also helped introduce a new Enforcement Conduct Board –that will bring independent oversight to the bailiff industry for the first time. The Enforcement Conduct Board is the product of years of work from organisations across the debt advice sector, including the Money Advice Trust, and the enforcement industry, as well as national and local Government. Its creation comes at a crucial time, with the financial effect of Covid still being felt and the impact of the cost of living growing.
In addition, to these areas we responded to more than 25 policy consultations, and a range of research, including a report looking at the ongoing impact of Covid on small business owners.
Our Outcomes Report for 2021 provides a more detailed overview of what we saw last year and the difference our work made to people in debt. I would encourage anyone interested in our work to take a look. Of course, this activity has continued into this year, and with the impact of rising costs hitting household budgets hard, our work this year will be more important than ever.
Read the full Outcomes Report 2021
Joanna is chief executive of the Money Advice Trust. Previously, she was Executive Director at the British Bankers' Association and a Parliamentary researcher and prior to that, a primary school teacher. She has a CBE for services to people in debt. View all posts from Joanna Elson.