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Changing Fortunes: Results from a Randomized Trial of the Offer of Debt Advice in England and Wales


  • The authors thank Alexy Buck and Vicky Kemp of the Legal Services Research Centre, Simon Wessely and Amy Iversen, King's College London, Andrew Briggs and Mavis Maclean, University of Oxford, Iain Chalmers, James Lind Library, and Hazel Genn of University College London, and Loraine Gelsthorpe, University of Cambridge, for their assistance in the development of this study. RCT registration: ISRCTN68363641.

*Pascoe Pleasence, Legal Services Research Centre, Legal Services Commission, 85 Gray's Inn Rd., London, WC1X 8TX, U.K.; email:, or University College London, Bentham House, Endsleigh Gardens, London, WC1H 0EG, U.K.; email: Pleasence is Head of the Legal Services Research Centre and Professor of Empirical Legal Studies at University College London; Balmer is a Principal Researcher at the Legal Services Research Centre and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Laws, University College London.


A randomized trial was conducted to assess whether the offer of advice to those experiencing debt problems and who had yet to obtain any formal advice, had a positive impact on their financial and general circumstances. The participants were drawn from 16 Jobcentres (welfare offices) in 13 areas of England and Wales. In all, 402 participants were included in the trial at its outset; 234 participants remained in the trial at the 20-week followup. There was no significant difference in the rate at which intervention and control group respondents had resolved their debt problems at the 20-week followup. However, the former were significantly more likely to describe their financial position as “better” than at baseline. There was also evidence that they became more knowledgeable about their financial circumstances, more focused on dealing with priority debt, and more optimistic about their future prospects, relative to control group counterparts. These findings, though, fell short of statistical significance. The findings provide the first experimental evidence of a positive impact of the offer of debt advice. The study also highlights the difficulties of applying experimental methods in a social setting. One lesson drawn from the difficulties encountered in running this trial is that takeup is likely to be low for some forms of pro-active advice for sensitive problem types experienced among disadvantaged communities.