Today we feature a special blogpost from the CEO of StepChange Debt Charity (formerly CCCS), Gordon Bell. At this time of year, when we tend to look back on the past 12 months, we also need to focus on the New Year and the financial difficulties so many UK families will face in 2012.
The image of poor families struggling through Christmas is embedded in our Christmas traditions: think of Bob Cratchit in a Christmas Carol, the March family in Little Women and the Baileys in It’s a Wonderful Life. But coping with straitened finances 365 days a year is more than a seasonal fancy for an increasing number of families in the UK.
According to research we commissioned earlier this year from the Financial Inclusion Centre, 3.2 million UK households are unable to pay their debts or meet the financial demands of every day life, with a further 3 million finding it hard to make ends meet. 6.2 million households; tens of millions of people.
It’s our aim to help as many of these people as possible in the coming year, and we want to ensure that no one pays for debt advice and management unaware that there is a free alternative.
To this end, in 2012 we’ll be raising awareness of our service and the fact that we have substantial capacity in both our helpline and online counselling services.
Debt counselling, both by phone and online
Online debt help was used by half of those we helped this year. Its advantages of anonymity and convenience mean that people seek help earlier in the debt cycle, which is to their advantage.
Its cost effectiveness (£3 per person counselled, compared with £51 on telephone and £265 face-to-face) means we can help substantially more people for a fraction of the cost. Building links to CCCS Debt Remedy through websites of other like-minded organisations will help us to reach more of those who need help.
At the same time, there’ll always be some people who need face-to-face help. A strategic partnership between us and Citizens Advice started this year, bringing bureaux a share of the charitable contributions we receive from lenders, while freeing its staff to concentrate on the more vulnerable people who need their support.
Alleviating the misery
It is difficult not to feel apprehensive as the economy enters what most see as uncharted waters. It’s not my wish to end on a note of doom and gloom, but rather to urge all those who are interested in alleviating the miseries of over-indebtedness to support our work.
I would also like to thank lenders who continue to support our endeavours, allowing us to provide considerable help to the nine out of ten people we see without the means to repay their debts.
Best wishes to you all and good fortune in the New Year, where we hope to move closer towards our vision of a society free from problem debt.