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StepChange responds to shocking new MaPS findings on the debt advice “gap”

28 February 2024

StepChange today calls for a concerted national effort to raise awareness of free, impartial and charitable debt advice in response to new findings from the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) that show more than a third (39%) of the UK population either need debt advice now or will need it soon, with a massive shortfall between the number of people who need advice and the number who are getting it. StepChange, the UK’s leading charity providing debt advice has seen year-on-year increases in clients coming for help, with more than 19,000 seeking support in January alone.

MaPS says that among the 8.1 million people who already need debt advice, people are more likely to be young, low earners and in temporary jobs. This matches StepChange’s experience. Polling for the charity in January revealed that around half (49%) of all UK adults were worrying about their financial situation, but only 4% had sought help from an organisation like StepChange or Citizens Advice.

As MaPS identifies, fear, embarrassment and being unsure where or how to access help are all barriers to people getting the help they need. StepChange’s annual Debt Awareness Week, running from 18-24 March, will specifically address these barriers and try to help open up a wider national conversation about debt and how to address it, especially as financial worries are now so prevalent.

Before then, the Chancellor has an opportunity in the Budget on 6th March to take steps to alleviate some of the pressures and worries that people face. Extending the Household Support Fund, improving welfare entitlement and delivery, and reducing the harm caused by penal council tax and benefit overpayment debt collection practices would all help.

Commenting on the MaPS findings, StepChange Chief Client Officer Richard Lane says:

“MaPS is right to draw attention to the fact that taking debt advice can be truly life-changing. Our clients routinely tell us this, and often say they just wish they had sought help sooner. We measure wellbeing as well as financial outcomes, and find that after debt advice both typically show considerable improvement. But the barriers to taking advice are very real and very deep-rooted, and part of our collective goal must be to tear them down.

“But clearly, far too many people aren’t getting help – or all too often don’t even know that free, impartial support is out there. For anyone experiencing financial difficulties, our message is clear. Help is out there. You don’t even have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to – at StepChange, for example, you can undertake debt advice and explore possible solutions online, and just finding out your options won’t affect your credit record. So there really is no harm in taking the first step – it could prove to be a positive experience that could ultimately lead you to becoming debt-free.”

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