People experiencing problem debt tend to have more complex situations than in the past, so the scope and delivery of debt advice also needs to evolve - a challenge reflected in StepChange Debt Charity’s new strategy, published today during Debt Awareness Week.
In 2021, 158,000 clients were given full debt advice by StepChange, and the charity projects serving 191,000 clients this year, rising to 350,000 by 2025. Many more people who need information rather than full advice will see this delivered through the StepChange website and other outreach.
Today’s clients typically have multiple debts including arrears on priority debts like utility bills, council tax or rent. Many clients also have other vulnerabilities as well as their debt, and many have a reliance on benefit income (with all the complexity this can entail). Even after going through a budget process, many clients have a negative budget and can’t make ends meet on a daily basis. This complexity makes the charity’s campaigning work more important than ever, and this is reflected in the new strategy. It also means that the mix of the debt solutions StepChange recommends is evolving, as fewer clients can afford to repay their debts over a reasonable timescale.
Recognising these changes, at the core of StepChange’s new strategy is a strengthening of its client-centred approach to fully take account of individual preferences and needs. These frequently go beyond the provision of debt advice and solutions. In practice, this means a full review of the charity’s debt advice policy, an increased focus on income maximisation, and a scaling up of partnership working with organisations offering complementary services and support.
This will help position StepChange as the preferred debt advice partner for creditor organisations, enabling them to refer their customers who need debt advice with confidence, on the basis of the high quality of advice and impartial provision of the complete range of debt solutions available across all the nations of the UK, supplemented by efficient integration with creditor processes.
At the same time, structural funding for debt advice is changing significantly. UK and devolved government commissioning of advice services are both changing. The contribution to funding derived from debt solutions will also change, most notably with the 2024 introduction in England and Wales of Statutory Debt Repayment Plans. This means that StepChange needs to harness every possible efficiency to provide maximum value from the available funding to deliver both the quality and the quantity of help needed.
Learning from the fluctuations in funding experienced through the Covid pandemic, at an organisational level StepChange will also be focusing on maintaining and strengthening resilience. The planned staged approach to growth is designed to ensure stability and maintain target financial reserves throughout the forthcoming structural changes to debt advice provision in the UK. Recognising that debt advice has been a tough sector in which to work in recent years, investing in the wellbeing of colleagues and developing leadership at all levels is also a high priority, and one that aims to make working at StepChange a proud career of choice in which talented people can thrive and develop.
StepChange CEO Phil Andrew said:
“After weathering the storm over the two years of the pandemic, UK households have understandably been hoping for better times ahead. However, recent rises in the cost of living and worries about even higher future energy costs mean that debt looms large for millions. Our new strategy is designed to ensure that, whatever uncertainties lie ahead, as an organisation we’ll be ready and able to advise and help people deal with their debt when they need us.”
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