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2021 may not go down in history in the same way 2020 will, but we can learn a great deal from how the pandemic, and its economic impact, has unfolded over the last 12 months. In such unprecedented times, data – whether that be about health, the impact of policy changes, the environment, or on the economic outlook – has become increasingly relied upon to inform what we do next. Quickly analysed and disseminated data has brought some certainty to uncertainty.

At Registry Trust, the not-for-profit organisation which maintains the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines for the UK & Ireland, we hold vital ‘public data for the public good’ on the state of the nation’s finances at the sharp end of the debt lifecycle. This year, our monetary judgments data has been used in reports by regulatory bodies FCA and UKRN, research organisations Consumer Data Research Centre and Market Research Society, and think tanks Centre for Cities and Demos. It’s also been used by firms who buy our ‘bulk data’ to enable good business decisions to support responsible lending and borrowing. One of our most important and popular pieces of data analysis of 2021 showed the link between businesses getting a County Court Judgment (CCJ) and later becoming insolvent, which is now being used as a warning sign for supporting organisations that are in trouble before they face insolvency.

In 2021, we’ve also seen calls for greater transparency in all aspects of society, but particularly when it comes to household finances, and great strides have been made in breaking down the taboos that surround talking about money. We used Money and Pensions Week’s Talk Money Week in November 2021 to up the ante on our campaign to raise awareness of the CCJ process to limit its impact on people’s financial resilience, especially when it comes to getting them formally ‘satisfied’ (read more here). Our Data Analyst Millie has also looked at what the impact Breathing Space and the Universal Credit uplift reversal has been on financial health. But when it comes to transparency, we believe we need to go beyond better understanding of and public education on CCJ debts, and actually change the legislation to make it fairer for consumers, publishing information about creditors/claimants (which doesn’t currently appear on our Register) and putting the onus on them to provide the courts with proof of payment so defendants don’t have to. In 2022, we will continue lobbying for these small changes which could make a huge difference to the data available and the impact that data has on lending, borrowing and, ultimately, people’s lives.

Speaking of greater transparency, there’s another missing piece on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines as it currently stands, which we’re hoping to finally fill in next year. A key step forward in 2021 has been the formation of a steering group for the creation of a Register of Partial Settlements made up of representatives from the finance industry, credit reference agencies, and the debt advice sector. The aim of the steering group is to make public information about partially settled CCJ debts to support the reintegration of previous borrowers into the reputable credit market, as well as continuing to further economic and political understanding of debt levels across the UK.

We are also attempting to establish a pilot with the Cabinet Office to look at data matching options. The Digital Economy Act allows for the sharing of data to prevent fraud and manage debt, and the data we hold may help to support these twin aims through increased data matching. Currently, the courts send a limited amount of information through to Registry Trust for inclusion on the public Register. The date of birth field, which is a key identifier for most credit reference agencies, is optional. The argument for making that field optional is that individuals will not always have access to a defendants’ date of birth, so making it mandatory would be a barrier to justice. Currently, we see dates of birth in c. 50% of the records received. The pilot is to establish the possibility of matching mobile phone numbers as an additional (optional) data field, working on the premise that knowledge or records of a mobile phone number are easier for the general public to know about, and by their nature, the mobile phone numbers are individual. This in turn would significantly increase the data match rates at consumer credit reference agencies, which in turn would strengthen the economy by supporting responsible lending. If successfully approved, and run, it is likely that we would still need to achieve a change to the statutory instrument (The Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines Regulations 2005), and the challenge in achieving this should not be underestimated.

We can be certain of one thing in 2022, it will continue to be uncertain. But, building on the progress that’s been made in publicising and using data to inform policy and other decision-making in 2021, we must continue to push for better, more in-depth, more transparent, and more universal use of economic information to enable an economic recovery that learns from past and protects the most vulnerable in our society from future unprecedented shocks.

One of the biggest challenges we face at Registry Trust in doing this is that we are a small and still not widely known organisation, so we will need the support of our partners and stakeholders. Please watch this space and share what we’re doing in 2022 and beyond…

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