A year in collections: looking back at 2023

20 December 2023

It’s telling that the Collins Word of the Year was ‘Permacrisis’ in 2022, and it certainly feels like 2023 has been a continuation of that.

Here we round up some of the notable events of the year in the world of collections and recoveries

Council Tax

The Council Tax Collection Practices Inquiry was launched in November 2021 to understand how councils differ in their approaches to council tax arrears, the support available to those who fall into council tax debt, and whether there needs to be changes to the law on the recovery of council tax arrears.

It made its recommendations in December 2023, some two years after it was set up, including:

  • "the Government should amend existing regulations to enshrine in law the principle that collection should be based on a resident’s ability to pay
  • "the Government should amend existing regulations by the end of this Parliament to replace the sanction of imprisonment"
  • "the Government replace the council tax collection best practice guidance with a statutory code of practice"
  • "an application for universal credit [should] automatically trigger an application for local council tax support"

A rising tide of debt

In a year dominated by inflation, rising interest rates and industrial action, the cost of living crisis has crept into those groups whose wages have traditionally protected them from routine financial variations.

Research from the Money & Pensions Service in November showed that 16m people had missed household bills during the year already, with 2m of them never having missed a bill before.

Small business

The rise in the National Living Wage that was announced in the Autumn Statement will be welcome news for cash-strapped employees, but noises coming out of different parts of Westminster suggest that small businesses are going to struggle with it to the point that it may have an impact on growth aspirations.

Energy prices

Martin Lewis published some interesting analysis on the energy price cap rise announcement in November, showing that when the withdrawal of government support is factored in, energy will be more expensive in real terms than ever before i.e. it has been higher in nominal terms, but factoring in historic government support changes that fact.

Ofgem has been active in the debt space too, publishing a consultation in October looking at the risk that rising consumer debt is having on the market.

Regulation rumbles

No round-up of 2023 could be complete without a look at what the FCA has been up to. Consumer Duty has been the natural focus, but the impact of some of its previous efforts have also come into the spotlight.

There has been an interesting debate[1] on the regulation of lending to the subprime market in the UK, notable high-cost, short-term credit. On one side of the debate, Mick McAteer from the Financial Inclusion Centre has applauded the move as it has prevented people from accessing unaffordable credit.

On the other hand, Jason Wassell, CEO of the Consumer Credit Trade Association has been making the point that we need a more extensive debate about the supply of credit products that meet people’s needs, as there’s a pattern of communities looking to illegal lenders as a result of the void left by regulation.

Universal Basic Income

Back in June, a couple of pilot sites were announced to trial Universal Basic Income, which would effectively see everyone get an allowance of £1,600 a month. As income from wages increases, the UBI would be clawed back through the tax code, so people on high incomes would effectively never see it.

Economic Abuse Toolkit

All the way back in January, the Cabinet Office Fairness Group launched the Economic Abuse Toolkit. This was a big collaboration across government and the advice sector with expert insight from the charity Surviving Economic Abuse and the Money Advice Trust. This enables front line agents to have structured conversations on an emotionally difficult subject.

This is just a small sample of what’s been happening in the industry this year – we could literally write a book if we were to include everything! Other noteworthy mentions go to:

  • the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on CCJ Claimant Data
  • the Centre for Social Justice report on illegal money lending
  • the Money & Pensions Service survey on household debt
  • the Fair4All Finance report on financial inclusion amongst diverse ethnic communities.

Closer to home, this has been a special year for Just. We have always said that our clients deserve to get paid. But not at any cost. This year we have helped make enforcement industry practices by launching the Just Breathe service, which contains our Doorstep Vulnerability Toolkit. Its impact did not go unnoticed, with COO Natalie Tate winning Vulnerability Leader of the Year at the Women in Credit Awards.

2024 will be another challenging year for the UK. That environment makes it even more important that we continue to develop our services and deliver better debt outcomes for the benefit of clients and their customers alike

[1] Where will struggling households turn to after UK clampdown on payday lenders? | Payday loans | The Guardian

Steve Coppard
Group Director of Debt Policy & Strategy
Just & Arum 

About the author


Steve has been in the debt industry since 2001. He spent most of his career working in government, where he started on the phones collecting VAT debt and ended up being responsible for prompting improvements to the management of over £40bn of public sector debt. He joined Just and Arum in May 2022 where he continues to shape the biggest conversations in the debt market, having been recognised as an Influencer on the Credit 500 list for a number of years. Credit Management Magazine recently called him one of the industry’s genuine thought leaders.