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Disabled people ‘doubly disadvantaged over debts’

Creditors are failing to make the necessary reasonable adjustments to help their disabled clients sort out their debt problems, according to a new report from Citizens Advice (CA).

The report, Double Disadvantage, says many disabled people face problems such as inaccessible bills, high pressure sales techniques, unfair methods of debt collection, and irresponsible lending, with many creditors not taking any account of their client’s impairment.

Although disabled Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) clients have slightly lower average debts (under £13,000) than their non-disabled clients (nearly £15,500), they are more likely to have high-cost credit debts.

Citizens Advice said creditors must become more proactive in recognising the needs of their disabled clients.

About a fifth of people seeking debt advice from CAB in England and Wales are disabled or have a long-term health condition. Last year, CAB gave advice or support on problem debt to more than 72,000 disabled people.

Common causes of debt problems for disabled people include a restricted ability to work, low income, and the cost of disability-related expenditure.

More than a quarter of CAB clients who are disabled or have a disabled child attribute some of their financial difficulties to problems with benefits, compared with seven per cent of all CAB clients, says the report.

Among its recommendations, the report says regulators of financial services, credit providers and utilities 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”.

The report also says that many creditors are failing to take account of the Equality Act and need to adopt an “equality focus” in all parts of their business.

Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, 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.”

The report also says that it is vital for debt advice services to be sufficiently funded.

Guy added: “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.”