The idea for the research came from our UK Challenge Group, who were concerned that the overall fall in demand for debt advice seen during the pandemic was partially driven by some vulnerable groups needing debt advice but not being able to access it because of the closure of in-person services.
Our own research, and feedback from the debt advice sector, told us that some groups already vulnerable to financial shocks were more likely to be negatively affected by the pandemic. Because of this we wanted to look more closely at how far the closure of community based in-person debt advice services disproportionately impacted any of these groups.
We launched a call for evidence in late September 2021, as well as carrying out interviews with debt advice organisations and groups working with different communities across the UK. The insights from these exercises have helped us to understand both the effects of the closure of in-person services on people in vulnerable circumstances, and how debt advice and other related services can be more resilient to sudden and ongoing disruption.
Through this research, we begin to draw lessons on how services might be designed and delivered in future to reach and engage people in vulnerable circumstances, and to support organisations to put the right business continuity policies and procedures in place to manage system-wide disruption to services.
The report summarises what we heard and considers the actions we can take to support and collaborate with the debt advice sector to deliver on our promise to improve the quality and availability of debt advice across the UK.