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available but not actively promoted because of concerns about people using credit cards to pay one debt off and so incurring another.  When people have fallen behind with payment arrangements and are using a debit or credit card to bring accounts up to date, regular payments by direct debit or standing order will be encouraged.

Offers of Payments from Advice Agencies

It is important to distinguish between customers who won’t pay and customers who can’t pay. This is not straightforward as people’s circumstances can change rapidly and judgement is needed in the process of assessment.

Current experience suggests that many people in arrears do not seek assistance early on in recovery processes and they may receive advice from other agencies. The Council must respond to evidence of hardship at all stages of the recovery process from whatever source.

The Council’s Advice and Information Centres and Welfare Rights Service, the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and Stockport Law Centre will provide advice to customers about their repayments, advice that will be linked to their ability to pay and likely to be accepted.  Liaison between the Officer acting on behalf of the customer and the creditor service is strongly recommended practice.  The aim to ensure that the repayment arrangement is acceptable to all parties involved and that all known circumstances relating to that customer are shared and taken into account.

A customer’s ability to pay can be assessed by the advice agencies through a financial statement drawn up by the adviser.  This will take account of the standards and guidelines available nationally; for example those produced by the Child Poverty Action Group, Money Advice Association and Money Advice Trust.

Evidence of the accuracy of the assessment will be available to the Council if requested.

Where the customer's ability to pay has been assessed on the basis of a financial statement prepared by one of the advice agencies, the Council will usually accept the agreed repayments and suspend further recovery action.

If an offer to pay is refused the agency will be provided with reasons why.

Any Officer making an arrangement to repay on behalf of a customer must take responsibility for emphasising to the client the need to repay and to keep to the arrangement/offer made - illustrating the possible consequences if the terms are not kept to.

All such arrangements will be in writing and will include acknowledgement of the debts outstanding by the customer (including costs borne directly by the Council).

In all contacts that follow, the customer will be encouraged to seek further money advice.

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