Common Financial Statements: Transformations of Indebted Subjects in the Work of Citizens Advice.

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW2.2.03 (Tower Two)
Samuel Kirwan, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom

Samuel Kirwan, School of Law, University of Bristol.

Common financial statements: transformations of indebted subjects in the work of Citizens Advice.

This paper will examine the process and experience of money advice. It addresses the procedure used by money advisers to bind clients to financial plan, the role of the Common Financial Statement, and the manner in which the everyday – the domestic rhythms of care, work and pleasure – are recreated and intervened upon in the space of the interview room. While acknowledging the ways in which narratives of governmentality and neoliberalism have highlighted the processes of subject formation at play in this space, the paper argues for the money advice process as opening a space for individual transformations that exceed the schemas of responsibilisation, consumer choice and other manifestations of power. The paper draws on interviews and participant observation at Citizens Advice Bureaux carried out over the course of 2014 as part of the New Sites of Legal Consciousness project.

Having described the format of the ‘Money Advice Process’, the paper places the work of Citizens Advice in the wider context of changing debt burdens and creditor practices. Statistics gathered by Citizens Advice in recent years have shown a significant trend from ‘non-priority debts’ (credit cards, store cards, catalogues, payday loans) towards ‘priority debts’ (mortgage and rent arrears, Council Tax Arrears, utility arrears and others) (Citizens Advice, 2014:15). I describe the relationship between the money advice work carried out by Citizens Advice and the work of other institutions, namely local debt advice services and the national Money Advice Service, the Local Authority, the separate utility companies, debt collection agencies and bailiffs. I describe the different forms of ‘Affective capture’ (Deville, 2012) used by each of these agencies, focusing in particular, with reference to the work of Joe Deville work, on those of debt collection agencies, whose particular legal and institutional positioning necessitates a variety of modes of client engagement. I describe how central these forms of engagement are to the Citizens Advice training, as they frame assumptions about the way that clients will previously have been targeted, and as such the understandings through which the advice process will need to clear a path.

The following section describes the client that is imagined by the money advice process. As noted above, there are previous forms of affective capture that the process needs to engage with; it is often assumed that the client will have ascribed an elevated importance to ‘non-priority’ debts. One key task for the adviser will be to have the client place the correct focus on those debts that endanger one’s home, liberty or essential services. This is carried out by placing the focus on law, exploring with the client issues such as what collectors can legally do or how bailiffs are legally allowed to carry out their work. As Rhys Jones (2010) notes, the movement within Citizens Advice national organisation is for the assumption of a client that is capable of resolving their own financial problems with the correct guidance (and if they are not that this is a temporary situation). Jones places Citizens Advice within an arrangement of government through pedagogy; indicative of the ways in which the state seeks to teach individuals how to act. Drawing on interviews with advisers the paper notes the points of antagonism with this tendency towards the pedagogic, going as it does against an understanding that many clients are unable to resolve their own affairs, and of a deeply entrenched understanding of the role of Citizens Advice as a service that does not turn anyone away.

The final section focuses upon the manner in which the money advice process seeks to recreate the everyday in the confines of the (windowless, airless) interview room. Drawing on interviews with Money Advisers, I describe the process of negotiation that goes into drawing up a Common Financial Statement, drawing out the different motivations and emotions in play in this process as the future, composed of needs, pleasures and relationships, is re-shaped and re-drawn. I describe the way in which this tool is then used to manage the relationships between the client, the adviser and the different creditors. Drawing upon my own participant observation of the Citizens Advice training programme, and my own research diary during this period, the paper describes the training and learning techniques in which the subject position of the adviser is visualised, and my own twists and turns as this subject position became detached from the financial irregularity of my own life.

The paper concludes by recognising the importance of two key analytic frameworks through which money advice has been understood; first that of governmentality, focusing either on the pedagogic nature of the service or the therapeutic rendering of a governable subject (Rose, 1999:90), and second that of the dynamics of neoliberalism, money advice, as a service bolstering the financial capability of increasingly indebted consumers (Marron, 2012:418), occupying a space at the interface between the doctrines of consumer choice and responsible citizenship. I describe how these access the emotional centrality of debt; the way in which it conditions relationships with space, significant others and material objects. Yet the paper argues also that there is a degree of creativity and unexpected transformation missing from these analytics; that the placement of debt within the abstract and regulated space of the advice interview allows the client a certain movement to assess and work upon other parts of themselves – in short that the direction of subject formation exceeds the confines of the responsible, active citizen.


Citizens Advice (2014). Advice Trends 2014/15 Quarter 2. Available from [accessed 26/01/2015].

Deville, J. (2012). “Generating market attachments; Consumer credit debt collection and the capture of affect”, Journal of Cultural Economy. Vol.5(4) pp.423-439.

Jones, R. (2010). “Learning beyond the state: the pedagogic spaces of the CAB service” Citizenship Studies. Vol.14(6) pp.725-738.

Marron, D. (2012). Producing over-indebtedness”, Journal of Cultural Economy. Vol.5(4) pp.407-421.

Rose, N. (1999) Powers of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P.