Making sense of the numbers: The shift from non-consensual to consensual debt relief and the construction of the consumer debtor

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This article analyses trends in the number of individual insolvency proceedings in England and Wales, particularly a shift from non-consensual debt relief to consensual Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) and, connected to that, an increased privatization of the process. Seeking to conceptualize IVA users, it builds on American scholarship linking the development of bankruptcy rates to the construction of the consumer debtor. Based on this theory and empirical evidence, its findings broadly indicate that a majority of IVA users do not match the image of a strategic actor. Rather, they belong to the most vulnerable groups, whose decision in favour of IVAs is the result of external constraints and irrational biases, which commercial providers tend to exploit. Building on this characterization of IVA users, the article contributes to the critical discussion of aforementioned trends, arguing that reforms should be contemplated to partially reverse them.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-270
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Law and Society
Issue number2
Early online date27 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas