The Head of Debt Free London, Matt Dronfield, shares his reflections on the year that was.
In a year that continued to be challenging for so many of us in so many ways, I’d like to take a moment to look back on on 2021 and reflect on just how impressed I am by the incredible passion, dedication and commitment of my colleagues across our service and on some of the amazing things we have achieved together.
And what a year it's been!
It was just 12 months ago, in the middle of the second national lockdown, that we started perorations to double the capacity of our advice service by recruiting 70 new trainees to form part of the next generation of debt advisors. January also saw us respond to the Mayor of London's state of emergency call, by extending our opening hours, providing a 24/7 service from January to March.
In March, we launched a new partnership with EDAC (the Employers Domestic Abuse Covenant) to better support victims and survivors of domestic abuse who face barriers around debt.
In May, we released new research revealing that over half of Londoners are in a worse financial position than before the pandemic and, worryingly, that 18% would not tell their partner or family member if they were in debt.
In June, we opened our new advice centre in Greenwich to better help those in Greenwich to access free debt advice.
In October, we held our Debt Free London Conference at Canary Wharf, where some 200 colleagues and partners joined us for the launch of our Annual Impact Report 'A Year of Responding to Change' and our Peer Action Research report ‘We're Not on a Conveyor Belt’.
By December, all of our trainee debt advisors had completed their Level 3 Advice and Level 4 Casework certifications. In the same month, we hosted the Debt Free Awards to recognise some of the brilliant work our service has produced this past year.
I’m extremely gratefully to work with an amazing team who put their heart and souls into finding new ways to solve the money worries of Londoners, and have delivered unmatched innovation to ensure we’ve been able to continue to offer our free, expert advice to those that have needed us more than ever.
We've learned a lot in 2021 and have seen the average amount of debts our clients come to us with rise from £18k to £19k. But, at the same time, we've seen the average financial gain we're able to give our clients rise from £7k to £8.6k.
We've also seen the proportion of female clients rise to 57.3% and that our clients continue to disproportionately come from ethnic minority backgrounds. At the same time, we've seen an increase in the numbers of client conversations we’re seeing in the second half of this year.
As our city continues to recover next year from the crisis of COVID-19, we’ll need to continue to innovation and evolve to ensure we can support the thousands of Londoners facing a frightening and uncertain future.
Because we owe it to all the Londoners who’ve made sacrifices over the past two years, and to all the frontline workers still risking their lives daily. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to build a better, fairer society and ensure families can thrive in future – free from debt and the constant worry it brings.