StepChange appoints Vikki Brownridge as new Chief Executive

Vikki Brownridge, currently Director of Operations at StepChange, will become the charity’s new CEO on 1 May 2023, taking over from Phil Andrew who leaves the charity after more than five years in post.

Vikki is the first woman to become Chief Executive of the charity and takes up the role after more than 17 years at StepChange, during which time she has risen through the ranks and worked in a number of senior roles including Director of Charity Development and most recently Director of Operations.

Vikki started her career with the charity as a debt advice centre manager and quickly moved onto Head of Debt Advice where she was instrumental in developing and launching the first online debt advice service and delivered significant efficiencies in the operation. She then moved onto Head of Strategic Relationships where she oversaw the management of the charity’s relationships with creditors, other charities and the Money and Pensions Service. She joined the executive team in 2018 as Director of Charity Development leading the charity’s business development strategy before moving to the Director of Operations role at the end of 2021. Prior to joining StepChange Vikki held a number of senior positions within contact centre operations working in financial services and outsourcing.

John Griffith-Jones, Chair of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “I am enormously pleased to announce Vikki as the new Chief Executive of StepChange. Over the past few months we’ve conducted an open and competitive search process to find the right candidate and I’m delighted that Vikki has emerged as the ideal person for the role. I know that the passion, knowledge and insight that Vikki brings will be invaluable to the charity over the coming years. The rest of the Board and I look forward to working with her in what is a hugely important time for the charity and the people that it helps.”

New CEO Vikki Brownridge said: “I am utterly thrilled to be the new Chief Executive of StepChange Debt Charity. It’s a real honour and such an exciting opportunity. I’ve been with the charity for more than 17 years and that is because of the amazing colleagues I get to work with every day and the fact that I passionately believe in the work the charity does and our vision to work towards a society free from problem debt. To be given the opportunity to lead the charity at such a critical time for those struggling with debt is an enormous privilege and I look forward to the challenge of ensuring the charity and our dedicated colleagues can continue to help as many people as possible while making the case for the change needed to reduce the harm caused by problem debt.”

Outgoing CEO Phil Andrew said: “I’m absolutely delighted to see Vikki appointed as StepChange’s next Chief Executive. I can say from experience that it is the honour of a lifetime to serve in the role and to lead such brilliant colleagues. I’m particularly pleased that Vikki has been appointed as the internal candidate, which I think shows how seriously we take nurturing and developing talent and future leaders. She could not be more deserving of this opportunity to lead the charity and I leave knowing it is in the best possible hands.”

Broker Conveyancing appoint two new Account Managers

Broker Conveyancing, the broker-focused conveyancing distributor, has today announced the appointment of two new Account Managers.

Both Joe Hart and Natasha Ellis start with immediate effect and will be working out of the Broker Conveyancing Head Office in Working, supporting individual advisers and firms to help them develop their conveyancing advice activities.

Joe joins Broker Conveyancing after three years working as a paraplanner for Premier Pensions where he was working with a team of advisers, covering tax planning, income and retirement planning for clients.

Natasha joins the business after nearly eight years working in a range of roles within the lettings market. Starting as a negotiator, her most recent job was as a letting manager for Luff Associates; she has also worked for both Chancellors and Waterfalls Sales & Lettings.

Broker Conveyancing said it continued to add further resource to the business in order to meet growing demand for its proposition within both the mortgage advice and estate agency sectors. The two new Account Manager appointments follow the appointment of Area Director for the North, Charlotte Felton, in January.

Mark Snape, Chief Executive Officer at Broker Conveyancing, commented: “At the start of the year, we identified the opportunity to add quality individuals to the Broker Conveyancing team in order to meet the growing demand we have seen for our proposition. We’re therefore very pleased to have brought both Joe and Natasha on board recently, both of whom have a range of experience in both financial services and property, and each come with excellent skills and drive, which I know will be appreciated by all those who use us. Our team continues to grow and develop, and we believe these two new additional Account Managers will provide tangible benefits, support and guidance for all those who deal with them.”

Countrywide Surveying Services and Family BS extends lead valuation partnership to reach 25-year milestone

Countrywide Surveying Services (CSS), one of the leading suppliers of valuation panel management services, has announced the renewal of its partnership with Family Building Society through a contracted appointment to remain the lender’s Lead Valuer and Panel Manager until the end of 2025.

This extension marks a 25-year partnership between the two firms after the first contractual agreement was signed in December 2000.

Family Building Society delivers innovative and flexible mortgage products to meet the needs of the modern family across all generations and individuals not well served by the mass market.

Matthew Cumber, Managing Director of Countrywide Surveying Services, commented: “We are immensely proud to have a number of longstanding relationships across the industry, and to hit the quarter of a century mark will represent quite some achievement for both parties.

“Such longevity not only helps demonstrate the ongoing quality of our service but also how we continue to innovate and evolve to help support such forward-thinking lenders like Family Building Society to tackle the ever-shifting needs of its specialist and diverse range of borrowing requirements.”

Andy Deeley, Director of Lending at Family Building Society, added: “Family Building Society are delighted to have renewed our contract with Countywide which will bring up 25 years of working together. We value the relationship we have with Countywide and hope to continue it for many years to come.”

One in six people has £20 or less to live on after paying for essentials each month

New YouGov polling by StepChange Debt Charity for Debt Awareness Week reveals the dire state of household finances over a year into the cost of living crisis, with people imminently facing higher council tax, less support with energy bills and increased rent or mortgage payments.

The representative survey examines the toll that the cost of living crisis has had on household incomes. Almost one in six UK adults (15%), equivalent to seven and half million people, has £20 or less left over each month after paying for essentials, with one in twelve (8%) people having no disposable income at all. This chimes with StepChange’s own client data which shows one third (33%) of new clients are in a negative budget, meaning that, after a debt advice session and budget counselling, their expenses exceed their income.

The polling also reveals the impact of nine consecutive interest rate rises on mortgage holders and renters alike. Half (50%) of renters and 38% of mortgage holders expect their housing payments to rise within the next 12 months. Of those facing a rise, one in four (26%) expects to be driven into problem debt because of it. Among renters whose rent is rising, four in five (81%) say it’s because their landlord is increasing their rent.

While the Chancellor confirmed in the Spring Budget that the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) has been extended for another three months, the Energy Bill Support Scheme (EBSS), which has seen households receive a £400 discount on their energy bills is coming to an end on 31 March. More than one in three (37%) people say they will have to borrow to cope, a figure that rises to more than two in three among Universal Credit claimants (67%) and one in two (56%) among renters.

The survey comes as the charity marks its annual Debt Awareness Week, which this year seeks to increase understanding of how debt advice works and how it can help people struggling with their finances. The polling shows that one in six (16%) people do not know debt advice services even exist, and a further one in five (21%) wrongly believe that contacting a debt advice organisation would have a negative impact on their credit score.

StepChange is calling for reform that will have a long-term impact and ultimately protect people from remaining trapped in a spiral of problem debt. The charity has been campaigning for an end to unaffordable deductions from benefits to repay debts, and would like to see the introduction of a social tariff on energy bills to support low income households.

Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “We welcomed the government taking action in last week’s Budget to extend the Energy Price Guarantee for a further three months, however, these figures make clear it’s not just energy bills that are decimating household budgets. Millions of renters and mortgage holders are worried that simply meeting their rising housing payments is going to drive them into unmanageable debt. Inflation has skyrocketed and wages have not. More than a year on from the start of the cost of living crisis, financial resilience is clearly very low – too many people are left with little to nothing each month after covering their basic living costs.

“Government must look at the whole picture and recognise the scale of this issue which is rapidly turning into a debt crisis. Those on low incomes are going to receive extended support with energy bills and childcare, however, they still face punitive deductions from benefits to repay debts. Then there are those households who fall through the gaps, not eligible for government help, but still struggling to cover their living costs. Many people will have built up substantial energy arrears over the past 12 months, which ought to be written off if they cannot afford to pay.

“This week marks Debt Awareness Week, and as this crisis continues to burden household finances, it’s vital that people know free and impartial debt advice exists, and aren’t put off by any misunderstandings around what happens when you seek help with problem debt.”

KYP announces new client announced that KYP, a leading real time and proactive alerts risk intelligence platform, has been selected as a their global data orchestration solution to manage their merchant and third party relationships on an ongoing basis.

KYP and have also entered into a strategic partnership to deliver Open Banking account providers with robust, real-time continuous risk monitoring of their partners and TPPs.

“The gateway is a dedicated interface for banks, FinTechs and other account providers, meeting their obligations under PSD2 with ease and at low cost. There are many suppliers in the market offering ‘single solutions’ on adverse media or PEPs/Sanctions but no one else currently takes the complete data set (DarkWeb, Adverse Media, Credit Scores, PEPs, Sanctions, Cyber Risk and Insolvency Checks) and delivers this in an integrated actionable interface . By combining KYP’s Risk Intelligence Platform and’s gateway, we will be able to offer an even greater level of risk monitoring and assurity to our bank and fintech clients. The KYP solution is available to all gateway clients as a stand-alone bolt on or value added managed service” comments David Monty, Co-Founder at

“We are delighted to be partnering with and we look forward to working with the team moving forward. The KYP platform addresses the urgent market need for continuous monitoring and proactive alerts of Merchant, TPP’s & partners providing actionable risk intelligence. KYP is not an onboarding and transaction monitoring solution, but a real time B2B on-going fraud, risk and reputational mitigation solution and we are excited to see how KYP will help protect’s growing client base globally” said Alan Nagle, CEO & Founder of KYP.

‘Budget for Growth’ plays it safe, says RSM UK

‘This has been badged as the ‘Budget for Growth’ but for most individuals, this may be seen as the budget of bland ideas. The chancellor simply could not afford to make a mistake in his announcement today. He has put out the fires set by his predecessor in the Autumn Statement, and flashy tax giveaways for individuals were not on the agenda. He has seemingly followed the advice of the opposition benches that ‘boring’ government is the safe pathway to growth.

‘There was little in the Budget that would relieve the tax burden for households. The extension of the energy price guarantee until the end of June, and free childcare measures will be widely welcomed to ease the continued cost of living pressures. Many earners will also see a small increase to their take-home pay from 6 April following the reversal of the 1.25% National Insurance increase and scrapping of the health and social levy. The current average weekly earnings for individuals is £630, and such average earners will be nearly £5 per week better off from 6 April. However, that benefit was announced in the calamitous Mini-Budget last year, and not today by Mr Hunt.

‘The small tax advantage on earnings could well be outweighed through the stealth tax measures previously announced. The Office of Budget Responsibility has forecast that inflation will decrease by the end of the year, but despite this, continued wage inflation could result in many individuals being dragged into higher rates of tax, and the tax burden will continue to be at its highest level since the second world war.

‘The one big idea for individual taxpayers was increasing the amounts that they can save into their pensions. With no lifetime limit as to how much can be saved into pension pots, the big winners may be those looking to limit their inheritance tax (IHT) exposure.

‘There are significant IHT advantages to holding assets within a pension pot, and some pensions can currently be passed onto the next generation free from any tax if the individual dies before the age of 75. The government’s figures estimate that abolishing the pension lifetime allowance limit will cost over £800m annually from the 2026/27 tax year onwards. In time however, this cost to the Exchequer could be substantially higher. We await the detail of the pension measures from the Treasury, but financial planners may be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of maximising pension pots to limit a family’s IHT exposure.

‘There are already some who see the existing pension tax rules as too generous, and taxpayers need to be wary that the pension announcements made today could be reversed or restricted by a new government following a general election.

‘So, the Chancellor’s speech was far from a blockbuster, but it remains to be seen whether being boring is brilliant enough to solve the country’s productivity puzzle.’

Chris Etherington, tax partner at leading audit, tax and consulting firm RSM UK

FLA’s response to the Budget

Commenting on the full expensing announcement in today’s Budget, Stephen Haddrill, Director General of the FLA, said: “When it comes to pro-business measures, I am delighted to see that the Chancellor has adopted our proposal for the full expensing of business investment.

“We look forward to seeing the details of how leasing will be handled within the regime.”

Certainty on energy bills, but ‘damage already done’ for many households

The Money Advice Trust has today welcomed  measures outlined in the Chancellor’s Budget to help households struggling with rising energy costs, including the extending of the Energy Price Guarantee, but has called for more support to help people who are already behind on their energy bills.

Findings from a survey of callers to the charity’s National Debtline service show that a quarter (25 percent) of respondents are already behind on their energy bills, and 62 percent are worried about being able to afford their energy costs.

Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “This Budget gives households some much-needed certainty on energy costs beyond April – and the decision to bring pre-payment energy meter costs in line with direct debits is also welcome, if long overdue.

“The hope of inflation falling so significantly this year will come as a relief to those struggling – but for many households the damage is already done.  Millions who are already behind on their energy and other bills are going to need further support to get through this cost-of-living crisis.

“The government should consider dedicated funding to write off energy debts for people facing unaffordable repayments, and payment matching to help people pay off their debts more quickly – to help the millions worrying about what the months ahead will bring.

“I would encourage anyone worried about their finances to contact National Debtline or Business Debtline.”

StepChange responds to budget

“It was vital that today’s budget set out bold plans that targeted support at the millions of households facing real financial difficulty following more than a year of this gruelling cost of living squeeze. The extension of the Energy Price Guarantee, the end to extra pre-payment meter fees and the extra childcare support announced will make a real difference to struggling households.

“But for millions of people, the financial squeeze is rapidly becoming a debt crisis. Currently, one in three people who comes to StepChange for help does not have enough money each month to cover their bills and essentials. They are at breaking point due to soaring utility bills, rising food costs, unaffordable rents or mortgages, and stagnant wages. Alongside the welcome extension of help announced today, the government should act to introduce social tariffs for utilities, end punitive deductions from benefits to repay debts, make the Household Support Fund permanent and ensure that rising council tax does not leave more vulnerable households seeing a bailiff on their doorstep.”

Extending the energy price guarantee will be a huge relief for millions of households but energy prices are still markedly higher than they were 12 months ago, and with real wages not keeping up with inflation, many families will still be struggling to afford their energy bills.

More than one in two new StepChange clients are now in energy arrears, many of whom aren’t eligible for further targeted support and are in danger of falling further into unsustainable debt. That’s why it is so vital that the government urgently introduces a social tariff for energy, which would act as a long-term solution to protect financially vulnerable households from debt and fuel poverty. For those already in difficulty, StepChange is calling on government and energy firms to prevent energy arrears building up further for struggling households, including targeted funding to write-off arrears for people who simply cannot afford to repay.

Today’s package of extra childcare support for people on Universal Credit recognises the need to further support families and those on the lowest incomes. However, it’s important that what the government gives with one hand, it doesn’t take away with the other. Many of those now entitled to extra childcare funding will still experience unaffordable deductions from their benefits to repay debts, blunting the impact of extra support and still leaving them at risk of being pulled further into debt. StepChange has long called for the need to end these unaffordable deductions. The government must act if it is to alleviate financial pressure on low-income households during the cost of living crisis and beyond.

Richard Lane, StepChange Director of External Affairs

Mortgage warning signs from the Bank of England

In the last three months of 2022, mortgages agreed for the coming months were down by a third (33.5%) from the previous three months, and down a quarter (24.5%) in a year. Excluding the onset of the pandemic when the market was effectively closed, this is the lowest level of mortgage approvals since 2015.

The value of balances with arrears rose for the first time since the start of 2021 – by 4.6% over three months and 1.3% over a year. However, it’s still close to historic lows. 5.1% of mortgages had a loan-to-value of over 90%, the highest since the start of 2020.

The Bank of England released statistics from mortgage lenders and administrators for the last three months of 2022: Mortgage Lenders and Administrators Statistics – 2022 Q4 | Bank of England

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “The mortgage market isn’t on red alert just yet, but things aren’t looking good for the canaries in the coal mine. Mortgage approvals have dropped, arrears have risen, and more than one in 20 mortgages are for at least 90% of the asking price – which could leave some buyers vulnerable to price drops.

“Mortgage approvals dropped like a stone at the end of 2022, after the mini-Budget sent rates soaring, and sent would-be buyers scurrying back into their own homes. It’s why transaction levels at the start of this year have been quite so sluggish. However, the market remains optimistic that there will be some residual strength in approvals as we move further into 2023, especially now that rates have dropped back significantly from the peak. Of course, much will depend on what happens to mortgages if inflation proves difficult to shift, and the Bank of England is forced to keep raising rates.

“There’s still every expectation that lower demand will push prices over the edge. Already Nationwide is showing annual falls, and it may only be a matter of time before all the indices follow suit. With drops predicted at anything up to 10%, this raises threats for those who have bought with small deposits. So it’s worth keeping an eye on figures that show one in 20 mortgages have a loan-to-value of over 90%, which could put buyers in the danger zone if house prices were to drop significantly.

“Arrears will also be one to watch. We’re still near historic lows, but the number of people falling into arrears on their mortgage is starting to rise. Separate figures from the ONS found that at the end of February and beginning of March almost a third (32%) of people found it difficult to pay the rent or mortgage, and almost one in 20 (4%) had already fallen behind. Meanwhile, the HL Savings & Resilience Barometer found that 347,000 people are at critical risk of falling into arrears, because not only is their mortgage getting more expensive, but they don’t have any emergency savings to fall back on, and they’re already spending more cash each month than they have coming in.

“As yet, none of these are signs of imminent collapse in the housing market, but they are strong indications that weakness may well endure, and could leave some people particularly exposed.”