Central Government’s new Debt Fairness Charter: inching forward, but still progress

StepChange Debt Charity
StepChange Debt Charity
3 min readMar 12, 2024


By Peter Tutton, Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs

On Monday, the Government published its long-awaited “Debt Fairness Charter”, an output from the Government Debt Management Function under the auspices of HM Treasury. It sets out some welcome high-level principles on how central Government departments are expected to go about seeking the repayment of debts owed to them fairly. The Minister responsible for launching the report, Bim Afolami MP, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said “Through the publication of this Charter, the transparency of government debt management will increase, with information accessible to all”. Here are StepChange’s initial reactions.

First, credit where credit is due. We are really pleased to see that there are very welcome commitments in the Charter to:

  • A fair and appropriate approach from central government when seeking to recover debt
  • Tailoring debt resolution plans to people’s circumstances and ensuring debt repayments are affordable
  • Flexibility, and urging people to contact government departments if struggling to pay
  • Central government actively raising awareness of debt advice and referring people who need debt advice quickly.

These are all important principles that bring the collection of Government debt more closely to the principles that apply to creditors in other regulated sectors. Although the principles introduced by the Charter are high level and potentially open to significant variability in interpretation (rather than detailed conduct of business rules), we welcome them warmly.

As the Economic Secretary alludes to in the introduction to the Charter, there has been liaison with debt advice organisations and StepChange has been involved. Indeed, this work has been going on in some shape or form for a number of years, and it is a mark of progress (if not fast progress) that a tangible Charter now exists.

However, there are still some obvious flaws and questions, that over time we hope the Government will reflect on and move to resolve. The rate of change in such policymaking is rarely speedy, but we would like to see further change and progress in the following areas:

  • The charter does not apply to debt collection approaches like deductions from benefits, but we know (and our previous research has evidenced) that unaffordable deductions can cause intense hardship and worsen debt problems, so we would like to see departments with specific debt recovery powers apply the charter principles across all their debt recovery.
  • The charter does not apply to local government, but we urge local authorities to pick these principles up voluntarily initially. We are still seeing financially and otherwise vulnerable people being referred to enforcement agents for debts like council tax in many cases where this is not appropriate.

It’s also questionable whether the Charter’s high-level principles will be applied consistently by Government departments unless there is detailed guidance to support them.

Similarly, the reference in the Charter to the complaints entry points for each of the relevant Government departments if people feel that the Charter is not being properly applied is welcome, but it isn’t clear what will happen if people do complain, and how their complaint will be assessed.

It also isn’t clear what publicity will be undertaken to ensure that people subject to Government debt collection will be alerted to the existence and the principles of the Charter.

Despite these limitations, the Charter is definitely a step in the right direction. While it may lack the detail, governance and oversight that characterises the rules on customer debt management in the regulated credit sector, it does at least adopt many similar principles. In seeking to bring these into the orbit of how central Government should behave when looking to recover money owed by citizens, it’s highly likely that more detail will be needed over time to ensure consistency, and that local government as well as central Government should be included. For now, though, we welcome the new Charter as progress.



StepChange Debt Charity
StepChange Debt Charity

We provide free, impartial debt advice and solutions to anyone struggling with debt problems in the UK.