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Where to get debt and money advice

Debt advice and solutions are available from an FCA-authorised debt adviser, local authority, or through legal aid if the debt could result in the loss of the person's home.

This content applies to England

Debt advice for the public

People in debt can access free debt advice from a range of organisations including:

  • Citizens Advice

  • National Debtline

  • Stepchange

  • Payplan

  • some local authorities

Local advice services often provide a debt casework service and other types of help like benefits and housing advice.

Telephone and digital services like Stepchange and Payplan might not be able to deal with complex cases including advice to challenge a debt.

People who have barriers to accessing phone or online services should be referred for face-to-face debt advice.

Eligibility for debt advice

Most debt advice is funded by the government through the Money and Pensions Service. It is not means tested.

Legal aid is available for cases that involve enforcement of debts that result in the loss of the person's home, including:

  • possession proceedings for mortgage or rent arrears

  • enforcement of a charging order by sale

  • bankruptcy proceedings where the home is at risk

Legal aid is means-tested. A person can normally only get legal aid if their income and capital is below a certain amount.

Find out more about legal aid for housing problems.

Online resources and budgeting help

Moneyhelper has information about debt advice services and some useful tools including a budget planner.

National Debtline has a range of factsheets and a budget planner with template letters to help a person in debt to negotiate with their creditors. It has information about dealing with the increased cost of living.

Debt advice solutions

A debt adviser can help their client identify and apply for a debt solution.

The debt adviser can apply for a breathing space moratorium or a mental health crisis moratorium to stop enforcement action for a temporary period.

Debt relief order

A debt relief order (DRO) can write off up to £50,000 of debt.

Applications for a DRO must be made through an approved intermediary. Approved intermediaries are debt advisers who have been accredited by a competent authority.

A DRO application is free of charge.

Find out more about debt relief orders.


Bankruptcy can write off an unlimited amount of debt. It can have consequences for income and assets including the family home.

Anyone considering bankruptcy should get specialist advice before they apply. It is very difficult to reverse a bankruptcy once the order has been made.

A bankruptcy application costs £680. has more information about applying for bankruptcy.

Individual Voluntary Arrangement

An IVA is similar to bankruptcy. It can write off an unlimited amount of debt, but the person must pay off a proportion from their income and assets, usually over five or six years.

An IVA can only be accessed through a licensed insolvency practitioner. Some firms charge very high fees, and recommend unsuitable solutions that turn out to be expensive. Anyone considering an IVA should get debt advice from a reputable organisation before entering the IVA.

The fees are variable for an IVA. They usually cost thousands of pounds.

Debt repayment arrangement

A repayment arrangement is an informal agreement to repay debts at a reduced rate. It is sometimes used as a temporary solution until the person in debt's circumstances improve or a permanent solution is found.

A repayment arrangement can be accessed through an FCA authorised debt adviser. Some debt charities take a monthly payment from their client and distribute it to the creditors.

People who have no available income could make payments of £1 per month towards their debts.

Charities do not charge fees to make a debt management plan. Private debt advice companies charge fees.

Complex casework and legal disputes

An experienced debt adviser can help to challenge debts. For example, because the debt is statute-barred by the Limitation Act 1980 or unenforceable under the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Some debt advisers can assist in court proceedings, including representation at court. They might be able to help complete a defence to a court claim, or make an application to court.

Complex casework could arise because a person has priority debts like mortgage or rent arrears, or court fines, that can have serious consequences for non-payment. They could need help to negotiate an arrangement with a hostile creditor, like an aggrieved private landlord.

Many telephone or digital-only services cannot provide complex casework or help to challenge liability for debts. People who make a referral for debt advice should check that the service provides the level of support the client needs to progress their case.

Advice for people with a mental health condition

Many people in debt live with mental health conditions. A mental health problem can make dealing with debts more difficult.

A face-to-face debt advice service can provide extra support to people with mental health needs, like longer appointments.

Rethink is a specialist mental health charity with a money advice service. It provides debt and benefits advice to people living with a mental health condition. It can place people who qualify in a mental health crisis moratorium.

The Money and mental health policy institute has resources and information for people with mental health needs.

Loansharks and illegal money lending

A person or company that lends money without FCA authorisation is a loanshark. It is a criminal offence to lend money without authorisation.

A reputable debt adviser can help someone with a debt to a loanshark. The debt adviser will never contact the loanshark without their client's consent, or do anything to put their client in danger.

A professional can ask their client about sums of money they cannot account for. A person in debt to a loanshark might be reluctant to discuss it due to fear or embarrassment. Professionals can reassure the person in debt about the confidentiality of their service as appropriate.

Identify a loanshark

The person in debt might not know whether the person they have borrowed money from is a loanshark. Common signs that the lender is a loanshark include:

  • loans given in cash

  • no paperwork about the loan or repayment terms

  • very high interest payments that increase without warning

  • threats of violence or other harm, like sharing personal information

  • taking the bank card or valuables of the person in debt

The FCA database contains details of every authorised firm in the UK. If the person or company is not listed, the lender could be a loanshark.

Report loanshark activity

The Illegal money lending team works with the FCA to investigate unauthorised lending. It can prosecute illegal lenders. A victim of a loanshark or their adviser can report loanshark activity without disclosing their own identity.

Authorisation and complaints

Debt advice is an FCA regulated activity.[1] An individual or firm must not carry out debt counselling and debt adjusting without a licence. This rule applies to charities and private companies.

Chapter 8 of the FCA Consumer Credit Sourcebook applies to debt advice providers.

The Financial Ombudsman Service can deal with complaints about FCA authorised debt advice services.

Local authority advice

Local authorities do not need an FCA licence to provide debt advice.[2]

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman can deal with complaints about local authority debt advice services.

Debt advice from a solicitor

Solicitors do not need an FCA licence to provide debt advice.[3]

The Legal Ombudsman can deal with complaints about debt advice from a solicitor or employee of a firm of solicitors.

Debt advice for professionals

Professionals who deal with debt cases on behalf of clients can get advice from Shelter's Specialist Debt Advice Service.

Shelter's monthly debt ebulletin contains news and legal updates, articles by sector experts, and new legal reference content on debt matters.

CPAG's Debt Advice Handbook is free online. It provides comprehensive information to advisers about the key stages of money advice, including:

  • interviewing clients

  • establishing liability

  • prioritising debts

  • preparing a financial statement

  • negotiating with creditors

  • dealing with bailiffs

WiserAdviser is part of the Money Advice Trust. It provides free training, a moderated forum, and online resources for professionals who provide free debt advice to clients.

Debt relief order guidance publishes DRO guidance for debt advisers and DRO guidance for approved intermediaries.

Benefits and grants advice

A benefits adviser can help a person check their entitlement to benefits and grants, get help to claim benefits, and challenge DWP decisions.

Find out more about where to get advice about benefits and grants.

Last updated: 8 April 2024


  • [1]

    reg.89A The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001/544.

  • [2]

    reg.39L The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001/544.

  • [3]

    Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Designated Professional Bodies) Order 2001/1226.