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Research and reports

The Money Advice Trust is committed to a programme of research which enhances understanding of the debt and credit environment and practically improves money advice.

Latest research and reports

We work with a range of leading researchers from highly respected academic institutions across the UK. The Trust’s research has a strong reputation for breaking new ground whilst complimenting existing work. Our research strategy is managed by our Insight team, which is challenged with enhancing our services for the public and for advisers through research and analysis. Find out more about the Trust’s most recent research here.

Building Up Business

Small businesses play a critical role in the UK economy.  However, a lack of access to support with business finance skills and knowledge holds businesses back, creates a higher risk of financial difficulty and can increase the risk of business failure.  

Drawing on our expertise from Business Debtline, and our experience as a training provider, we want to build the financial resilience of small business owners across the UK and help support more businesses to thrive.

Our Building up business programme aims to do that. Supported by Aviva, it provides vital insight and recommendations on how to close the business finance skills and confidence gap and improve support for small business owners.

Findings from the research will also be used to pilot a free, virtual learning resource for small business owners, to provide additional support to the small business owners who contact our Business Debtline service for help with their debts. 

Launched June 2024

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Help to Repay

High energy prices have had a significant impact on low-income households and energy debt is now at a record high. With people’s finances stretched to the limit, many people with energy arrears are struggling to repay. 

We’re leading a coalition of charities calling on the Government to introduce a temporary Help to Repay scheme. This would provide eligible households with help to reduce what they owe through repayment matching and debt relief.

Based on a UK wide poll of 2,000 adults, our research shows that:

  • One in four people with energy debts are currently unable to repay
  • An estimated 6.4 million (12%) UK adults are behind on their energy bills – up by 824,000 since April 2023.
  • More than one in five, an estimated 11.6 million UK adults, say they have cut back on food and other essentials to meet their energy costs.
  • 4.7 million people have sold personal possessions to pay their energy bills.

Findings from October 2023

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Under Pressure

The cost of living challenge for households is far from over. Our Under pressure report, the third in a series tracking the impact of the cost of living on UK households, shows how this difficult economic period has had a significant and concerning impact on peoples’ household finances across the UK. In some cases, this has drawn people who were previously managing into financial difficulty. In other cases, it has made things for people who were already struggling much harder. Our research reveals that by April 2023:

  • 3.7 million more people are behind on household bills, compared to March 2022
  • 5.5 million people (10% of UK adults) were behind on their energy bills – an increase of 2.1 million since March 2022
  • An additional 3.3 million people had recently gone without heating, electricity or water compared to March 2022
  • The research also shines a spotlight on how some groups have been more severely impacted by this crisis.

Drawing on these findings, the report identifies four key recommendations to Government and creditors, including a dedicated Help To Repay scheme, backed by 14 organisations, for people struggling with unaffordable energy arrears.

Published June 2023

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Shrinking Margins

This is the second of two spotlight briefings on the impact the high cost of living is having, and continues to have, on our clients.

Following on from our Counting the costs briefing on the experience of National Debtline clients, our Shrinking Margins briefing shines a spotlight on the impact of the high cost of living on callers to our Business Debtline service.

Many of the people we help are facing difficulties from all directions. As their businesses continue to be impacted by high costs and reduced trade, their personal finances are also being hit by rising council tax, energy and other bills. Based on a client survey, and insight from our services, our findings show that:

  • Nearly 6 in 10 of the Business Debtline callers surveyed had gone without essentials like food or clothing due to rising prices.
  • More callers are falling behind on household bills like energy and council tax.
  • Competing personal and business debts are adding to the challenge.

Published May 2023

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Counting the costs

Our advisers at National Debtline see first-hand the serious difficulties many people are facing as increasing council tax, energy, and food bills are competing with other rising costs.

This briefing provides a snapshot into the key challenges faced by callers to National Debtline as a result of the cost of living crisis, and their worries for the future. Based on a client survey, and insight from our services, our findings show that:

  • One in five (18 percent) callers to National Debtline in 2022 said their income being too low for their basic needs was the main reason for their financial difficulty – the most common reason cited by callers.
  • Nearly one third (32 percent) reported using credit in the last 12 months to cover essential costs like energy or council tax.
  • Nearly four in five callers (79 percent) are worried about being able to pay for essentials due to rising costs.

Published May 2023

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Talking money briefing

Our briefing brings together insight from National Debtline and analysis from Experian, which provides further insight into the lives of people contacting the service. The briefing explores some of the reasons for debt amongst callers to the charity and the underlying challenges they face.

Experian’s analysis used financial behaviour and geo-demographic modelling, to show which groups are using the service most and those which are not. The findings will be used to help build an even greater understanding of who is seeking debt advice and who may be in need of support.

Published November 2022

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Impossible choices cost of living briefing

Our latest briefing, based on a poll of more than 2,000 adults, shines a spotlight on the continued financial challenges UK households are facing and the difficulties that lie ahead for many more as the cost of living continues to rise.

The support provided to help households so far is welcome, but the Government and regulators need to go further to support people caught at the sharp end of rising costs by:

  • Ensure the benefits system provides enough support for people on low incomes, including significantly uprating benefit levels.
  • Provide more support for people already in arrears, including pausing debt collection activity and setting repayments to zero or a token amount.
  • Urgently introduce a social tariff to lower the cost of energy bills for low-income households.

Published September 2022

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Collision course cost of living briefing

Through our National Debtline and Business Debtline services, we see the sharp end of the current challenges facing households on income, costs and bills. However, the impact of rising inflation, energy costs and out-of-pace incomes are far-reaching.

Our first briefing on the cost of living, based on a poll of more than 2,000 adults, shines a spotlight on the financial challenges faced by UK households.

Our findings show that:

  • One in seven UK adults (an estimated 7.9m) were already behind on at least one household bill
  • An estimated 6.2 million had gone without energy, water or electricity in the three months prior due to rising costs
  • One in five UK adults expected to have to borrow money or use credit to cover their essential costs in the coming three months
  • Only one in five UK adults felt prepared to deal with further rising costs

Published March 2022

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Building back business

The Coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact upon the businesses, income and finances of many self-employed people and small business owners across the UK.

Our new report  Building back business: Tackling small business debt in the wake of Covid-19 explores the experiences of callers to our Business Debtline service and makes the case for continued support from Government, regulators and creditors to those still struggling.

Based on findings from a survey of callers to Business Debtline, our report shows that a year and a half on from the initial outbreak, and the financial shocks it brought with it, many self-employed people are feeling some sense of a slow return to normality. For others, however, recovery has been more difficult. For people whose businesses are continue to struggle, repaying debts accrued during the outbreak is becoming more of a worry. For those already experiencing problem debt when Covid-19 hit, these challenges are particularly acute.

Published December 2021

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Council tax after Covid

While Covid-19 has undoubtedly meant many households struggling to pay their council tax, arrears levels were already on the rise long before the outbreak. This report explores the problems that persist within the current systems of council tax collection and local Council Tax Support schemes, as arrears levels reach a record breaking £4.4 billion in England alone. Findings are based on new nationwide research conducted by YouGov and the experiences of callers to our advisers at National Debtline and Business Debtline, to provide insight into some of the key issues faced by people struggling to pay their council tax and the urgent reforms needed to help bring arrears levels down and to ensure people who do fall behind are treated fairly.

Published July 2021

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Council tax arrears update brief

Our most recent briefing (June 2022) presents key findings on Government council tax collection figures showing that arrears increased by £521 million (12 percent) between March 2021-22 alone. The briefing includes our own analysis on what these figures highlight around the challenges households are facing in affording their council tax bills, and recommendations to improve council tax collection practices to help households who are struggling to pay.

Cost of Covid

When the Covid-19 outbreak first began, few could have imagined the impact it would have on all our lives. The upheaval of the last twelve months has caused unprecedented damage to our economy and impacted the finances of many households, for better and for worse. Some are in a healthier financial position now than before the pandemic. However, despite government support packages, many people have fallen behind – having lost their job, income or livelihood. At National Debtline and Business Debtline, we see the real-life experiences behind the headlines. Our Cost of Covid report, based on the findings of a poll of more than 2,000 British adults and insight from our own debt advice services, provides insight into the impact the outbreak has had on households experiencing increasing financial difficulty due to the pandemic. You can also read our Covid Rent Arrears joint briefing, with StepChange and others from the debt advice and housing sector, here.

Published March 2021

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Back to business

Our Back to business report looks at the impact of Covid-19 on self-employed people, and outlines recommendations to the Government, regulators and creditors to help them recover from the outbreak. Our research shows that four in ten self-employed people surveyed expect it to take longer than a year for their income to recover and one in ten do not expect it to at all. This research reveals the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on self-employed people and their businesses, and the long road to recovery that lies ahead for many.

Published December 2020

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How people in debt are coping with the impact of Covid-19

Our How people in debt are coping with the impact of Covid-19 briefing shares stories from callers to National Debtline and Business Debtline on how they are dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak. This qualitative report sheds some light on some of the human situations we are hearing about behind the statistics on the financial effects of the outbreak we hear about.

Published December 2020

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Levelling up: The case for reforming government debt collection

Our Levelling up report was published as the Cabinet Office considered responses to a call for evidence on improving fairness in government debt collection, offering insight in the way that central and local government collects debts including council tax, benefit and tax credit overpayments. The findings come at a time when more people are struggling to repay debts owed to central and local government – a trend that is likely to be amplified by Covid-19.

Published November 2020

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Debt options in the new normal

Our Debt options in the new normal briefing explores some of the possible changes that could be made to the existing debt options landscape in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak to ensure that people struggling with problem debt are able to access robust and effective debt options that support their path to recovery.

Published October 2020

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At the business end

While the financial effects of Covid-19 have been severe for millions of households and across a broad range of the UK population, small business owners and the self-employed are among the groups most vulnerable to the outbreak’s impact. Our At the business end briefing offers insight into the experiences of self-employed people and other small business owners who were already either in or recovering from financial difficulty going into the outbreak – as well as a snapshot of what we have been hearing at Business Debtline so far.

Published August 2020

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At the sharp end

For people who were already struggling or dealing with problem debt, the financial repercussions of the Covid-19 outbreak are of particular concern. Our At the sharp end briefing​ offers insight into the experiences of people at this ‘sharp end’ – people who were already either in or recovering from financial difficulty going into the Covid-19 crisis – as well as a snapshot of what we have been hearing at National Debtline service over the first three months of the outbreak.

Published June 2020

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Closing the gaps

Our Closing the gaps briefing, released in April 2020 shortly after the start of the Covid-19 UK lockdown period, set out emerging insights into the impact of the virus on callers to National Debtline and Business Debtline and the steps needed to close the gaps in the Government’s response.

Published April 2020

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Business as usual

Our Business as usual report highlights the impact of late payments on small businesses. Late payments affects nearly half (45%) of Business Debtline callers, and our advisers can often spend as much time advising callers on how to chase these debts owed to them, as they do on dealing with their own business and personal debts. In the context of growing self employment and small business ownership, the need to tackle the problem of late payments is urgent. In this briefing we have laid out six recommendations for government, creditors and others on how this can be achieved.​

Published February 2020

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Latest consultation responses

The Trust regularly submits responses to consultations and calls for evidence from regulators, government departments and select committees. Find all of our latest responses here.

Research and reports contact details

Claire King

Contact our Insight Manager Claire King for our latest client numbers, research and report information.

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