Understanding the long-term impact of debt advice

Our evaluation of the Government’s pilot study finds a large scale survey would be feasible, important and timely

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Professor Peter Lynn and Dr Laura Fumagalli’s evaluation of a pilot longitudinal survey for the Money and Pensions Advice Service, finds a large-scale survey would be feasible and important for understanding what works in supporting people with debt problems.

The pilot study ran from October 2016 to January 2019 and surveyed a sample of 1,929 eligible people in the UK facing debt problems. These respondents were systematically stratified and randomly allocated to either the control or treatment group. The latter group received encouragement to contact a debt advice service.

Key findings

  • Eligibility, participation and attrition rates demonstrate that understanding longer term debt advice outcomes is possible
  • Retention rates do not challenge the feasibility of a large-scale longitudinal study keeping the treatment and control comparable
  • A range of valuable outputs can be measured at different points in time
  • Encouragement to seek help with debt increases the likelihood of people asking for help from friends and family
  • Self-help is the main choice made by those encouraged to seek help with debt

Writing in the Foreword to the report, Debt advice: Evaluating the long-term outcomes, Professor Lynn said; ““Debt can have a debilitating impact on health and wellbeing. Consequently, society as a whole suffers, and yet surprisingly, little is known about the nature of people’s complex journeys into and out of debt over time and the causes and consequences of the variation in these journeys.”

The key conclusion is that a large-scale longitudinal study of debt advice is not only feasible, but urgently needed, to provide the evidence base that will help to inform future policies on debt advice and related services. The financial wellbeing of the population has never in modern times been under as much pressure as it is currently. Taking care of all aspects of the wellbeing of the population is a mark of a civilised society. To serve well the population of the UK, the next step for the research community is therefore to rise to the challenge of identifying ways of enabling this study to take place.”

The Money and Pensions Advice Service said; “Knowing what works in solving problem debt is vital. The completion of a two-year quantitative pilot longitudinal study (PLS) by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) marks the first steps towards developing a longitudinal study to build an in-depth understanding of the medium and long-term impacts that debt advice can have”

A study of this kind has rarely, if ever, been attempted either nationally or internationally. Our pilot has the largest longitudinal dataset so far gathered on debt advice in the UK.

The key conclusion for the pilot is that a large-scale longitudinal study of debt advice is feasible, important and timely. The pilot demonstrates solid evidence that such a study is likely to produce valuable insight.”

Find out more and read the report here


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