Early intervention is key to stopping Welsh households from falling behind on their council tax or social housing rent payments, according to a new report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy. In 2018, the First Minister asked the WCPP to explore the evidence around the question ‘How might public services and their contracted partners in Wales better respond to vulnerable debtors, especially those subject to prosecution and prison?’
The report – which was co-authored by Professor Sharon Collard of PFRC, and Helen Hodges and Paul Worthington of WCPP – focuses on council tax debt and rent arrears to local authorities and social landlords as key forms of citizen debt to Welsh public services and their contracted partners.
As councils across Wales are seeking large increases in their council tax rates for the coming year, the report highlights the importance of building personalised and proactive support for vulnerable citizens, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Key features of an effective support system would include:
- Building trust with citizens right when they start being responsible for paying council tax or social rents
- Identifying any problems and acting on them as early as possible
- Easing the process of referring people in debt into partner services, and improved access to independent specialist help
But the report also warns that the ability for councils and housing associations to respond to future increases in demand, particularly in relation to any roll-out of Universal Credit, could be hampered because of increased workload pressures.
67,600 (5.2%) of households in Wales have problem debt according to the ONS, with a greater number of them in arrears for their council tax or social housing rents than in previous years.
We worked with local councils, housing associations and support services while writing our report on supporting vulnerable debtors.
— Wales Centre for Public Policy (@WCfPP) March 6, 2019