A new Breathing Space scheme will protect individuals with problem debt, with those in mental health crisis to get further protections while they receive treatment.
Individuals and families struggling with problem debt will be given extra help and time to get their finances under control, the government has announced.
People struggling with serious debt are to benefit from a new two-month “breathing space” during which they cannot be hassled by debt collectors and bailiffs, the government has said.
During the 60-day period, those eligible will be protected from enforcement action from creditors, and will also see their interest, fees and charges frozen.
Those experiencing mental health issues will also benefit from extra protection, said the Treasury.
The breathing space scheme was a 2017 Conservative party manifesto commitment, and while the measure has been widely welcomed, it will not be implemented until 2021.
The Treasury said the scheme meant individuals and families struggling with problem debt would be given more time and help to get their finances under control.
Record numbers of people have been seeking debt help, the debt charity StepChange revealed in April this year. It was contacted by 657,000 people in 2018, which was up 6% on 2017.
The majority of its clients are under 40, in work and rent their home, and the most common arrears were on council tax, while credit card debt was the most prevalent form of consumer debt.
The government has previously said the breathing space scheme “would stop most collections and recovery action from taking place”. All contact with a debtor relating to repayment demands would be prevented, while a creditor would not be able to apply to the court to enforce a judgment or order.
It has said the protection would apply to “as many of an individual’s personal debts as possible,” and the Treasury confirmed a broad range of debts would be covered, including money owed to central and local government such as council tax arrears, unpaid personal tax and benefit overpayments.
During this period individuals will be required to engage with professional debt advisers “so they can find a long-term solution to their debts and get back on track with payments”.
However, people receiving NHS treatment for a “mental health crisis” would not need to seek debt advice during the 60-day period. They will continue to receive the same breathing space protections, which will last for the whole of their treatment.
The package of measures also includes a “statutory debt repayment plan” for those struggling with problem debt, which offers similar protection to the breathing space scheme, helping individuals repay debts over a manageable timeframe.
The plan will adjust as people’s circumstances change – which could mean their monthly payments fall if their disposable income changes.
The Treasury said regulations on the breathing space would now be put to parliament “before the end of the year,” with the aim of it taking effect in early 2021.