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MEASURES TO TACKLE HOUSING DEBT

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Measures to tackle the rising incidence of housing debt, such as mortgage, rent and council tax arrears, were outli...
Measures to tackle the rising incidence of housing debt, such as mortgage, rent and council tax arrears, were outlined in a research report published today.

The 'Facing Up To Debt' report found that the incidence of housing related debt has been growing in both the public and private sectors and made extensive recommendations of how to redress this problem.

More specifically, it concluded that housing related debt advice centres should be substantially increased with a central support body responsible for co-ordination across Scotland.

The development of a national debt line - to be piloted in Fife soon - should help reduce the deficiency in basic advice provision, the report suggests.

Social justice minister Jackie Baillie said:

'Debt is a huge problem in our society and many people in Scotland are affected by housing related debt whether they are tenants or owner-occupiers. We also know that the demand for debt advice is increasing and we are taking action to ensure that people get good quality advice so that they can make informed choices to prevent their debt becoming unmanageable.

'We are supporting an initiative to develop the Scottish Debtline which will be piloted in Fife shortly.

'This will provide a telephone advice service that can be accessed by anyone needing assistance with issues like mortgage payment problems or council tax arrears. We will learn from this pilot and I anticipate that the scheme will eventually be extended to cover the whole country. This initiative will complement existing face to face advice provision.

'The Mortgage Rights Act will give homeowners facing repossession new rights, allowing the courts to give them more time to repay arrears, where they can get their mortgage back on track, or time to find alternative accommodation.

'And the introduction of a national Mortgage to Rent scheme will enable homeowners in mortgage difficulties to remain in their homes as tenants.

'We are working with advice agencies and other partners, including the financial sector, to see what further support we can offer to strengthen the infrastructure of debt advice provision in Scotland and this Report provides us with helpful information to enable continued progress on money advice.'

'Facing up to Debt: a study of housing debt advice and counselling in Scotland', by Michael Bell Associates, is published by HMSO. It was commissioned jointly by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Homes.

The main findings of the research included:

Housing related debt (arrears of mortgages, rent, council tax, service charges, or utility charges) are difficult to separate from other types of personal debt; individuals will often balance paying one debt by incurring debt elsewhere.

Existing debt advice services in Scotland are many and various, but considerably less than what are required.

Sufficient provision of advice at the most basic level is particularly lacking: directing people to appropriate sources of help, helping them fill in forms, etc. This deficiency may lead to additional need for more expensive advice services at a later stage. The National Debt Line, about to be piloted in Fife, will help reduce the deficiency in basic advice provision.

Recommendations made in the report include:

The volume of housing related debt advice services should be increased substantially, over time.

Debt advice services should be subject to externally accredited quality assurance and a central support body should be responsible for the co-ordination and delivery of training across Scotland.

Statutory Instruments should be used to ensure that the provisions in the Housing Act regarding information and advice are extended to include advice on housing related debt.

All Scottish local authorities should adopt good practice in managing rent arrears.

Improvements to the administration of Housing Benefit should be a priority.

Innovative methods of providing advice, particularly at an early stage in problems, should be explored, and additional funding for court representation services should be a priority.

A debt arrangement scheme is one of the key recommendations of the report from the working group on a replacement for poindings and warrant sale, 'Striking the Balance - a new approach to debt management'.

Justice minister Jim Wallace announced this week that the executive will be coming forward with proposals for a new statutory debt arrangement scheme to enable people to repay multiple debt in a managed way. Proposals will be published for consultation shortly.

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