Ahead of the Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference, we ask Deven Ghelani, Director, Policy in Practice some questions - find out what he said...

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1) Who or what is having the biggest impact on consumer debt in the UK?

The cost of living including property prices and lack of affordable housing is increasing at a higher rate than the average income for families. The benefit freeze and other welfare reforms mean these pressures are greater for those on the lowest income, and those not in work.

These factors are pushing people to turn to Credit Cards, Short Term Lending and other forms of credit to manage their household bills. Although unemployment is not necessarily increasing, and the minimum wage the ability for families in work to be able to manage their immediate necessity costs is forcing families into poverty. Poverty in turn leads to increased mental health issues, homelessness, and the requirement to lean on resources such as food banks. All of which place further pressure on the UK economy which in turn impacts the cost of living.

2) Where are the biggest opportunities for the industry to reduce consumer debt?

There is a huge amount of low hanging fruit in better identifying vulnerable customers, and proactively working to assist them before their position worsens. Early intervention, collaboration with other organisations like councils, and data sharing can be used to assist families before they fall into further poverty and help them to improve their financial position.

3) What are you most looking forward to at the Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference 2020?

To learn more about how the utility sector are addressing the increasing debt families are facing and how they are identifying, engaging and working in collaboration to reduce the stress their vulnerable customers are facing relating to their utility bills. And to educate the sector more on how Policy in Practice is addressing and supporting the sector to reduce poverty by increasing awareness of how the Welfare System impacts and can support those families, and how data, analytics and collaboration can increase incomes for consumers, and reduce costs for the sector.

4) What career advice would you give your younger self?

I would have hired people sooner and learned to delegate better - though that's more for me in my thirties rather than my twenties. And always follow your gut.

5) Who would your top five dinner party guests be (living or deceased)?

Muhammed Ali, John Steinbeck, erm...