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At Registry Trust, the non-profit which operates the register of monetary judgments in the UK & Ireland, we talk a lot about ‘financial fitness’. We believe in the principle of ‘public data for the public good’ and one of our core aims is to educate and empower consumers and small businesses to deal with County Court Judgment (CCJ) debts, especially ensuring judgments are formally ‘satisfied’. CCJs can affect the ability of consumers and businesses to access affordable credit and other services. Dealing effectively with outstanding CCJs can help pre-empt and prevent potential problems and lay the foundations for future financial resilience.

We wholeheartedly support the advice given by Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) through its new MoneyHelper ‘Couch to Financial Fitness’ programme. The ‘couch to financial fitness’ programme is based on a ‘prevention is better than the cure’ model, encouraging people to avoid getting into debt in the first place by budgeting, staying on top of bills, and saving. This is, of course, very sensible advice.

But, we think there are other simple steps that should be taken to ensure ‘financial fitness’. To push the analogy with physical health, before starting a new financial fitness regime, it is important that participants are ready for it. They should be aware of any problems which might lessen the impact of their new regime and also know how to get the best out of it. And once a short-term fitness programme is completed, regular maintenance is vital to avoid ending up back at square one.

CCJs are more common than is realised: There are currently 5.1 million CCJs on the Register. So, it is important that participants in a financial fitness regime check if they have an outstanding CCJ and if they do have a CCJ against them, they should try to settle the debt (or pay off some of the debt which is known as a ‘partial settlement’).

Many affected by a CCJ will have been able to ‘settle’ the debt – that is, pay the amount owed. But, it is not well known that as well as settling the CCJ, people need to inform the courts in England & Wales (or inform Registry Trust in other jurisdictions) with proof of payment. Otherwise, the CCJ will not be marked as ‘satisfied’ on the register. So, consumers and businesses may find their future access to credit and other services is still affected even though have settled the debt.

Problems dealing with CCJs can arise for a number of reasons. This can include simple reasons like out of date contact details meaning creditors can’t get hold of customers about their account. More seriously, a vicious cycle can develop between money worries and mental health issues. People with mental health issues are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt (source: Money and Mental Health Policy Institute). Money worries, in turn, can cause or exacerbate mental health problems. This can make it hard for people to cope with money problems including dealing with CCJs which can involve a sometimes very bureaucratic, opaque process. People with CCJs may be either unaware, unable, or unwilling (due to fear or misunderstanding – see this blog) to deal with them effectively. The current CCJ process doesn’t make this any easier, which is why we’re campaigning to make it fairer (read more here).

Being ‘financially fit’ doesn’t necessarily mean never getting into debt and/or not relying on credit of some kind. The economic recovery from Covid-19 is likely to depend on access to affordable credit. True financial fitness is being financially literate enough to utilise credit and deal with financial issues if/when they do arise.

So, we propose adding some additional steps to the ‘Couch to Financial Fitness’ programme:

*BEFORE STARTING: GET READY TO GET ‘FINANCIALLY FIT’ BY DOING A ‘HEALTH CHECK’

*Week 1: Manage your budget

*Week 2: Stay on top of your bills and payments

*Week 3: Cut your costs

*Week 4: Build up savings

*WEEK 5: SCHEDULE REGULAR FINANCIAL ‘HEALTH CHECKS’ TO MAINTAIN FINANCIAL FITNESS

Before being able to budget effectively, it’s important to deal with problems that could make getting financially fit harder than it should be. Just as it wouldn’t be sensible to aim to run 5K with an injured knee, it doesn’t make much sense to start working on your financial fitness without dealing with any outstanding debts, or ensuring that your credit score is an accurate reflection of your financial position. You should also seek debt advice if you’re worried you have serious debt problems.

You should also make sure you are receiving any benefits you are entitled to. It is estimated that seven million people are missing out on £15 billion worth of benefits. Forty five percent of people have never checked their entitlement (source: Turn2us). Making sure you’re getting what you are entitled to could give a real boost to your financial fitness programme, helping you to stay on top of your bills and put something aside into your savings. Similarly, once you’ve started budgeting, getting on top of bills, cutting costs, and building up savings, you need to ensure that this new-found financial fitness is sustainable by checking for and dealing with issues when they arise.

Our public portal, TrustOnline, where anyone can carry out a search on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines to check if they have a CCJ against them, features a range of ‘Help Topics’ about everything from understanding and checking for CCJs, to getting them ‘satisfied’ so they don’t continue to impact your credit file even when they have been settled.

Prevention is better than the cure when it comes to financial fitness and financial capability is absolutely key to this – but public education around this should include how to check for and deal with financial health issues so they don’t hamper success or progress. We all know there is a taboo around talking about personal finances and particularly credit and debt so we must be as open, realistic, and honest as possible in our attempts to increase financial fitness.

If you want to keep up to date with our latest blog posts, you can click here to subscribe to our monthly updates and/or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can also follow our public website TrustOnline on Facebook and LinkedIn for regular useful updates about CCJs, credit scores and more.