Debt advice and vulnerability: learning from the experiences of debt advisers

Jane headshotJane Tully, Director of External Affairs at the Money Advice Trust, discusses the launch of new research exploring the experiences of debt advisers working with people in debt in vulnerable situations. Findings from the research will inform the development of practical guidance to support debt advisers and their clients. 

Debt advice plays an important role in increasing financial capability. It can range from helping people to budget for the first time, through to improving people’s ability to manage their finances longer term. We also know that financial difficulty and vulnerable situations often go hand-in-hand.

On a daily basis our advisers at National Debtline and Business Debtline support people in financial difficulty with a variety of different complex needs such as mental health problems, serious physical illness and bereavement. One in five of the people we help at National Debtline say ill health or disability is the reason for them being in debt. For frontline debt advisers supporting people in these situations is often challenging.

While we are aware that advisers across the advice sector face similar situations, we don’t know enough about their experiences, working practices and the scale of the challenges they face.

This lack of information makes it harder to develop guidance, training and tools to improve support for advisers and the people they help. There is rightly a great deal of focus on creditors and the vulnerability agenda – an area that the Trust is active in through our training work – but these issues are crucial in the advice sector too.

That is why we have partnered with the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to investigate the challenges faced by the advice sector when working with clients in potentially vulnerable situations. Conducted by PFRC, and grant funded by the Money Advice Service, the research is based around a major survey of UK debt advisers. In particular, we want to find out:

  • how often advisers encounter clients in vulnerable situations,
  • the areas advisers believe improvements may be necessary to improve their work in this area,
  • how future sector changes may pose additional challenges in working with vulnerable clients.

We want to hear from debt advisers from across the UK and from a wide variety of advice organisations. The more advice organisations and debt advisers that participate in the survey, the stronger the results will be.

Findings from the survey, which runs until May 2018, will inform the development of new guidance and practical tools to help frontline debt advisers further support clients.

If you are a debt adviser or an organisation that provides debt advice I encourage you to get involved.

You can register your interest at:

A member of the PFRC research team will then get in touch to organise the survey.

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