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Inconsistent treatment preventing disabled people address their debts says Citizens Advice

30 June 2011

People with disabilities face unnecessary extra difficulties when trying to sort out their debt problems as creditors fail to recognise specific needs or make reasonable adjustments in a consistent way said Citizens Advice today. The charity found many clients would not have engaged with their creditors without the help of specialised debt advice but warned that ongoing funding for this valued community based support is uncertain.

Around one in five people seeking advice about debt problems from CABs in England and Wales are disabled or have a long term health problem. Last year bureaux helped over 72,000 disabled people with debt problems.

Based on evidence from CABs across England and Wales, the report, Double disadvantage reveals the additional detriment disabled people often face on top of their debt problems, such as:

It is often these practices which cause, or substantially contribute to, their financial difficulties, says Citizens Advice.

The charity warns that compliance with the Equality Act and sector specific rules is far from embedded in the day-to-day business practices of all creditors and practices that fail to account for the needs of disabled people are not being challenged. Citizens Advice is urging firms to adopt an equality focus on dealing with people in financial difficulties, championed at the highest level.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“Being in debt can be very disempowering for consumers but our research shows that disabled people in debt face a double disadvantage. They are disempowered by both their financial difficulties and the failure of creditors to take account of their needs through reasonable adjustments.

“We do see examples of good practice and a level of awareness from creditors, but a serious lack of consistency is letting down both the sector, and its customers. An equality approach needs to be put into practice throughout the business and to be championed by senior managers to ensure all consumers with a disability are treated fairly.

“Regulators also have a key role to play to support people and protect them from bad practice. They need to provide a clear steer on how to implement the rules governing consumer credit and retail banking to make sure disabled consumers’ needs are taken into account.”

Citizens Advice carried out part of the research with the Financial Inclusion Fund disability project which is a partnership between Citizens Advice, RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss, Contact a Family and Mencap to give free holistic debt advice to blind and visually impaired people, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, parents of disabled children and people with learning difficulties. However the charity warns that this project was under threat of closure earlier in the year as funding was due to come to an end. Funding has been temporarily extended for another year, but it remains unclear whether this much needed specialist support will be able to continue.

Gillian Guy added:

“Local community-based specialist advice services provide vital support for disabled people and their carers. Many of the clients we spoke to would not have engaged with their creditors without the help and support from specialist advisers who understood and met their needs. It is essential that all future plans to fund debt advice services are equality proofed. This means providing advice through a variety of channels, not just funding the cheapest option. One size does not fit all.”

Cases:

Double disadvantage - the barriers and business practices making debt a problem for disabled people.

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors:

  1. This year the Citizens Advice service celebrates its 75th anniversary. We’ve planned a year of activity running from January to December 2014. Contact the press office to find out more.
  2. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  3. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  4. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at www.adviceguide.org.uk
  5. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 or 08454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  6. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 22,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.