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Q & A with StepChange

StepChange is a charity dedicated to helping those with debt challenges and in particular more vulnerable people in society. We spoke with one of their debt advisors within their Advocacy Team, Alex Robinson, about the work they do and also some steps to guide those who are struggling financially.

Tell us about StepChange – what is your reason for being and mission?

Here at StepChange, our goal is to help everyone in the UK free themselves from problem debt. We understand the task when you consider how everyone’s lives have changed since the pandemic, but our free, no obligation service is at the forefront of debt advice, and we have 30 years’ experience providing it. We’re the UK’s only full debt support service that gives you complete flexibility.

You can complete the process entirely online or switch between our online and phone service, you decide what works best for you.

Can you tell us about your advisors? What experience do they have?

We have debt advisors based around the UK providing essential support for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with a dedicated centre to provide Scottish debt advice.

Our debt advisors will take note of information like your debts, income, and expenditure, provide advice on your budget, and identify areas that could be improved. We consider your assets, any previous solutions or debt advice history before suggesting solutions. These could include a Debt Management Plan (DMP), a Token Payment Plan (TPP), an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA)

If you meet the criteria, whilst seeking debt advice or setting up your chosen solution, you may be able to apply for Breathing Space, which is a free government scheme which allows you up to 60 days of no creditor contact. They won’t be able to contact you regarding payment of a debt or add any interest or charges.

Ultimately, every situation is different, and no two debt advice sessions are the same, which is why it’s worth speaking to an organisation like StepChange to understand your options.

We are currently in a cost-of-living crisis in the UK, what advice would you give to people that feel like they are struggling to make ends meet?

None of us are taught about debt or how to deal with it, so as a consumer we have little knowledge of our rights and options, leading many to believe there is no solution or way out. You are not alone, and help is out there.

If you feel like you’re struggling to make ends meet, you know your situation best. Start by creating a monthly budget, go through your bank statements, cancel any unwanted subscriptions, and understand where you can cut back on your day-to-day spending. See if small changes can help. Not everyone wants or needs to seek debt advice straight away, and that’s okay. Speak with your creditors, they can’t help if they don’t know you’re struggling. If you are still struggling, maybe it’s time to consider seeking confidential debt advice and support from professionals.

Make sure to do your research and ensure you’re talking to the right organisations. When in doubt, make sure you #CheckItTrustIt. Unfortunately, there are many companies out there labelled as debt advice organisations, but your financial health and wellbeing is not their main concern. You could be forced into solutions that are not appropriate for your circumstances, and potentially leave you worse off financially because of it.

For those who are struggling with debt – what top tips/steps do you recommend they take?

  • Keep up with your priority bills first and foremost. This includes your rent or mortgage, Council Tax, and utilities. Missing payments on these can lead to heavier repercussions vs missing a credit card or personal loan payment.
  • Create a realistic budget including any repayments to debts, make sure it’s sustainable long-term. Small steps, big rewards.
  • Ask for help, be it from your creditors, local authority, utility provider, water company, or a debt advice organisation like StepChange. Even just speaking to someone you trust can help tremendously when debt becomes an issue.