Description of the programme
Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, (WMDC), has delivered Yorkshire and Humber’s regional Mortgage Breathing Space (MBS) scheme since 2009. The initiative assists homeowners experiencing mortgage difficulties or under threat of repossession. The assistance includes an interest-free secured loan to pay off mortgage arrears and/or mortgage instalments for up to 12 months (if needed), and financial capability guidance and advice. A revised version of the scheme was piloted through the What Works Fund, (WWF). The aim of the pilot was to empower homeowners to improve their own financial capability through an assisted self-help model. Clients met with support officers at WMDC or in their own homes, participating in four review meetings per year. Clients received materials to use at home and could access telephone or email support.
The core research questions for the evaluation were:
- Can averting a mortgage crisis improve client skills and confidence across wider areas of financial capability?
- Are clients motivated to develop financial capability skills and confidence once their immediate crisis is resolved?
- What support measures are more (and less) effective at developing better decisions for each client’s needs and circumstances?
This summative evaluation focused on outcomes, testing the extent to which the pilot increased clients’ financial capability, financial stability and general wellbeing post-loan. The evaluation draws on clients pre- and post-intervention surveys (n=52), completed in person at review meetings between July 2017 and April 2018. Client interviews (n=6) and key stakeholder interviews (n=5) were conducted in April and May 2018. The evaluation also provided some economic analysis.
The main findings relating to the pilot outcomes were:
- Many clients’ understanding of financial products (particularly mortgages) improved. Enhanced understanding of the range of financial products and services available was also evident. Only 16% (n=8) of respondents had a good or reasonable knowledge of mortgages beforehand. This rose to 52% (n=27) post intervention.
- Clients’ understanding of their financial situations improved, with a reduction in participants being unable or unwilling to think about or engage with financial issues.
- Many clients showed substantial increases in financial skills and confidence, both in creating and tracking personal budgets, and liaising with banks, utilities and creditors. The number of clients reporting always or mostly feeling in control of their finances rose from two at the start of the programme, to 33 at the end.
- Overall clients were more optimistic about their financial future at the end of the programme. 71% (n=36) of clients reported a good or fair knowledge of options for dealing with debt after the programme, compared to 21% (n=11) before the intervention.
- Post intervention, most clients also demonstrated a better understanding of their rights and options for dealing with financial difficulty.
- At the end of the intervention, clients’ financial situations were generally more settled, though not all had achieved stability. 81% (n=42) of clients stated that their ability to deal with financial difficulties had improved.
- The MBS team all now hold an IMA-accredited Certificate in Money Advice and Practice. The team also made several adaptions to the application and review process, which improved engagement, clarified procedures, and notably reduced the number of ‘emergency’ client contacts from 2-3 per week to 1-2 per month.
It was not possible to conduct a robust cost-benefit analysis, owing to the complexity of relevant cases. The evaluation therefore reviewed recent research on the costs of homelessness in the UK. The cost of an MBS loan to the public sector was estimated to be half, (or less), of the costs that would be accumulated by the same client becoming homeless, or threatened with homelessness, and requiring housing by the local authority (LA).
- The revised MBS programme appears to be having good effects, and at minimum should be continued in its current form.
- WMDC and partner LAs should consider investing resources to expand the project, to address unmet need and to act in the event of repossession rates rising.
- The scheme should maintain good management information and client data to monitor progress going forward.
- The scheme would benefit from additional publicity to raise awareness amongst potential clients.
Points to consider
- The sample sizes were small and survey data was not matched for analysis. There is also a risk of sampling bias, as WMDC excluded some clients from the sampling pool for ethical reasons (extremely vulnerable clients).
- The sample size was not large enough to support testing for statistical significance.
- There is a risk of the halo effect in the findings (participants engaging with the programme at a time of crisis which it usually solves: the positive associations of the resolution may mean participants did not report negative or critical feelings about the programme).
- The project is of relevance to advice agencies and mortgage providers interested in developing financial capability support for clients with mortgage arrears, or at risk of repossession.