Saffy Siegal – dancing lion
Covid -19 has had a massive impact on our public and personal finances.
According to Moneycharityorg.uk people in the UK owed £1,685 billion at the end of September 2020. This is up by £23.4 billion from £1,662 billion at the end of September 2019, an extra £441 per UK adult over the year. The average total debt per household, including mortgages, was £60,449.
Of course, these figures are always changing. For an up to date picture please check The Money Statistics provided by The Money Charity.
These are eye watering figures that most of us struggle to comprehend. What meaning can we make of them?
Overall borrowing is up but interestingly, within the total, at the end of September 2020, outstanding consumer debt lending was £206.7 Billion falling by £1.03 billion on the revised total for the previous month.
So, it seems like we are tightening our belts and paying off as much consumer debt, such as credit cards as we can.
Within the total outstanding quoted above, credit card debt came to £61.4 Billion, a decrease of 15.1% in the year to September 2020. Credit card debt averaged £2,204 per household and £1,160 per adult.
Some other interesting facts that paint a sobering picture:
- 280 people a day were declared insolvent or bankrupt in England or Wales in August to October 2020. This was equivalent to one person every 5 minutes and 8 seconds.
- Citizens Advice Bureau in England and Wales dealt with 1,960 debt issues every day in the year to September 2020.
- 1.7 properties was repossessed every day in July to September 2020 in the UK, or one every 13 hours and 48 minutes.
- the number of the UK mortgages with arrears of over 2.5% of the remaining balance rose by 9 a day.
So clearly, despite government grants and furlough schemes, people are struggling, particularly small businesses owners, those in retail and hospitality, the vulnerable and those on low incomes. From our work with local authorities, providing tailored arrears collection programmes, Revenues and Benefits professionals are well aware of these figures and the predicament many of the community find themselves in.
For more information on Government grants and support, please see page – Financial support for businesses during coronavirus from www.gov.uk website.
Criticisms have been made from The Citizens Advice, (The State of Debt Collection), who say:
- Local government is mostly out of step with financial services and utilities companies in that it does not have an open or consistent approach to assessing affordability.
- National government debt collectors are rated poorly at communicating – answering the telephone and responding to letters. Mobile telephone firms also scored badly.
I recommend reading the following article relating to the topic – “The state of debt collection – the case for fairness in government debt collection practice” from Citizens Advice website.
This will particularly impact local authorities who have outsourced their collections for:
- Council Tax
- Non-Domestic Rates (Business Rates)
- Business Improvement District Levy (BID Levies)
- Housing Benefit Overpayments
- Sundry Debts
- Council and Temporary Accommodation Housing Rental Charges
Whilst local authorities can use a variety of enforcement measures, including instructing enforcement agents to take control of the debtor’s goods, once a liability order has been obtained in the magistrates’ court, these actions are the last resort. The use of the ultimate sanction for non-payment, which is imprisonment, is always avoided and usually only imposed when all other avenues have been thoroughly explored and documented.
Clearly it is in no one’s interest for debt to spiral out of control. Those individuals suffering from debit are likely to feel a combination of shame, depression, embarrassment, anger, and anxiety. Other physical and emotional problems can also occur out of massive debt which require specialist assistance from Social Services.
So, how can local authorities know what good practice looks like?
- Collections Strategy
A robust collections strategy that takes into account the unique variances in the local population and encourages a ‘firm but fair’ approach to collecting outstanding monies owed.
- Team alignment
Managers are aligned across interdependent departments, including third parties to the collections strategy. This sounds straightforward but typically requires focus and follow through to set up and maintain.
- Well trained helpful, professional communicators:
Customers can get through on the phone to a trained officer who:
- can help and understand how to work with a diverse range of customer types to achieve a positive outcome.
- negotiates and agrees to set payments that their clients can afford to make
- is professional, polite and respectful to customers in financial difficulty
- is empathetic and effective at supporting customers in vulnerable situations
- is a good listener but can also direct and guide the conversation.
- can tell the difference between those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay
- can defuse difficult situations and resolve conflict
- is able to provide a breathing space / extra time for clients who need it (to take advice)
- documents what has been agreed on the system clearly
- follows up on agreements made to ensure they are kept
- Letters from the council:
- are timely and relevant
- clear and easy to read
- in synch with conversations had with frontline officers
- stimulate action
A note on local authority debt collection and the methods of enforcement available against individuals can be found on this page – Local authority debt collection and enforcement methods against individuals from Practical Law UK website.
Whilst the economic conditions we are facing may continue or accelerate in 2021 there is much that can be done by well-trained front line officers, their managers and counterparts in social services, working together to collect monies owed in an effective and morally responsible way.
To find out how dancing lion can assist you please contact us to learn more.