I was fascinated to watch your evidence to the Treasury Committee about the Money Advice Service, not least because you were as unfettered in your critique as some have found Zero-credit at times. #duecredit. Most compelling in your evidence was its departure from your more public appearances, with more detail and substance than a ten minute slot can provide. So often I have wished to understand more about some of the recommendations you make, yet felt unable to communicate without “shouting”.
Correspondence with Stella Creasy earlier this year made it apparent that there is some perception of Zero-credit as an organisation that is more significantly resourced than is the case. In some respects, it’s a great compliment to a digital presence with which I have persisted from a council house kitchen table for the last three years, in others hugely frustrating that our lack of funds to attend a meeting should marginalise our contribution to relevant debate. It was all the more pertinent that you should question the spending of the Money Advice Service, when our entire budget last year was just over £5k.
This is not a begging letter by the way.
A victim of funding cuts since our formation as a co-operative (a start-up grant that was signed for and never paid), last May, our Members voted in favour of earning every penny of income that we receive. I am pleased to say that commissions for original research and development are beginning to pay our way, yet our desire to work with the Money Advice Service, expressed quite clearly last summer, remains summarily ignored. I do find this incomprehensible, given their accountability to consumers, the participatory nature of our work and indeed our business model.
Around 80 individuals own a share in Zero-credit and it costs £1 to be a member so that ownership of the influence we achieve is as close to universally accessible as possible. A further 40 businesses and organisations subscribe to the information services our Coop provides - not a lot, until you consider who some of these are: Experian, Which?, Payplan, Bristol Debt Advice Centre, DEMSA, Moneysupermarket, to name a few. Our digital influence has challenged even you and ThisisMoney at times and our site traffic is now some 6000 visits per month.
Our vision is one of consumers and professionals making informed choices together because each and everyone one of us “consumes” personal finance. Currently there is no provision for anyone with experience of unmanageable debt to contribute to the regulation or delivery of financial services, meaning that the opportunity to learn from mistakes is lost. As an advocate of financial education, I am sure you will agree that mistakes are integral to learning.
Martin, I am too frequently angered, saddened or tired at the injustices we encounter to engage politely at times. Generalisations that we should all avoid commercial debt help, PPI firms and payday lenders undermine any informed choice that has led to such a decision. In so doing they diminish our capacity for critical thinking, making us more vulnerable to scams. Of course, these are problematic markets, but within them are suppliers who are no less commercial than you have been. It is perhaps pertinent that my trust in your absolute integrity comes from the personal recommendation of a commercial debt solution provider with whom you went to university.
Now, I should very much like to ask you to join us.