By Grace Brownfield, Senior Public Policy Advocate, StepChange
It’s official — the UK is in now in The Thick Of It (the General Election campaign, that is).
As a charity, we’re of course bound to be scrupulously apolitical and neutral. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have strong views about what the next Government — of any persuasion — needs to do to fix the problems caused by debt.
Today we’re publishing our own ‘manifesto’, in which we ask the political parties to commit publicly to our key asks. In England and Wales, these are:
- Introducing an independent regulator for bailiffs (enforcement agents)
- Committing to continue the implementation of a breathing space scheme and statutory debt repayment plans to help people recover from problem debt
- Creating binding good practice standards for public sector debt collection and enforcement
- Committing to pilot a no-interest loan scheme in the UK to support those who might otherwise have to turn to high-cost credit or go without essentials
- Strengthening the hand of the Financial Conduct Authority with a clear mandate and responsibility to deliver a safe and fair credit market for consumers
- Setting out a strategy to reduce the number of people using credit for essential household bills, emergency expenses and essential household goods
- Strengthening the safety net, by improving the benefits system and making it more responsive to crisis needs — including ending the five-week wait for Universal Credit.
In Scotland, the legislation governing how debt advice operates means that there are significant differences. So we’ve also published a Scotland-specific version which you can read here.
One of the points that we want to make most strongly is that some of the work-in-progress currently under way but not yet completed does risk falling over and failing to reach fruition if it gets lost in the cracks between one Government and the next. Important elements that could be affected include bailiff regulatory reform, the implementation of a statutory debt Breathing Space and statutory debt repayment plans, the reform of public sector debt collection and enforcement, and the move towards piloting a No Interest Loan Scheme. We urge everyone involved to make strenuous efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Throughout the life of the previous Parliament, we’ve received outstanding support for some of our most important campaigning points from a number of MPs of all persuasions. We thank them all. Now, we look forward to working with the new Parliament and the new Government to make progress in tackling the many issues in the debt landscape that will await them when the campaign is over.