Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust – the charity behind National Debtline and Business Debtline
On the debt advice front-line we know that many people who would benefit from accessing free debt advice from charities like National Debtline do not currently seek it. The scale of this problem is significant – it is well known that while around nine million people in the UK are over-indebted, only 17 per cent seek debt advice.
We also know that when people are in need of any kind of personal advice, they often turn firstly to those in their community that they know and trust, such as a community leader, a carer or a figure in their local church or other place of worship. Especially when it comes to money issues and debt, they may not be aware of the free advice available to them or just feel more comfortable seeking the help of people close to them in the first instance.
Recognising that local churches are often the first port-of-call for people seeking guidance, we were pleased to work in partnership last year with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group on Responsible Credit and Savings on a new training resource to help churches in signposting people to free, independent debt advice services. At National Debtline we help around 300,000 people a year to tackle their debts and manage their money well – and this service, like the advice provided by our friends at Citizens Advice, StepChange Debt Charity and Christians Against Poverty – can be life-changing.
Our ‘Guiding people to free debt advice’ materials enable churches to facilitate the video workshop to inform volunteers about what to do if someone comes to them with debt issues, the types of debt advice available, how they can be accessed and how to help someone prepare for advice. The workshop isn’t designed to train people as debt advisers or counsellors, but to enable them to act as a link between people who are in debt and the free services that can help them.
Through this initiative we can harness the terrific work that is being carried out by individuals in their communities across the country to help people who are struggling to cope to the free advice that can help turn their lives around. So far, we have received very positive feedback from those who have used the materials, and in future we hope to work with a wider range of organisations to reach a greater number of people in difficulty.
I hope that many more churches will take up the materials, and help us to ensure that people in need of free debt advice receive it as quickly as possible.