Young woman breathing deeply outdoors

The Right To Breathing Space

A new government scheme aims to help people with problem debt by giving them time-out to seek professional help

The Debt Respite Scheme, also known as ‘Breathing Space’, gives people in England and Wales the right to legal protections for a defined period.

Under the scheme, companies we owe money to will not be able to enforce action or contact us for a certain period of time. Also, any interest and charges on our debts will be frozen. During this time, we should seek advice from our local Citizens Advice office, a national debt charity like StepChange, or our local authority.

It is estimated over 700,000 people will get support through the scheme, including many who have fallen into debt due to the pandemic. Problem debt can include council tax, personal tax debts and benefit overpayments, as well as credit cards and personal loans.

There are two types of breathing space: a standard breathing space and a mental health crisis breathing space.

A standard breathing space is available to anyone with problem debt. It gives them legal protections for up to 60 days (two months).

A mental health crisis breathing space is only available to someone who is receiving NHS mental health treatment when they apply to the scheme. It lasts as long as the person’s treatment, plus 30 days (no matter how long the treatment lasts).

Sue Anderson, head of media at charity, StepChange, said: “Breathing Space has the potential to arrest the cycle of worsening debt and to help put people seeking debt advice on the road to recovery. It’s welcome that people taking action to deal with their debts will finally get statutory protection that, up to this point, has only been voluntary and offered by some creditors.”

To trigger ‘breathing space’ people need to contact an FCA-regulated provider of free debt advice, or their local authority. Contact details can be found here.

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