Free debt counselling service reaps rewards
Allowing your finances to spiral out of control can be life-changing but help is available to get back on track.
Christians Against Poverty (CAP) offers free debt counselling, including support through the process from a volunteer befriender.
The Littlehampton debt centre, which covers the postcodes BN16, BN17 and BN18, has been running for nearly 18 months and already has four families who have become debt free thanks to its service.
Another three people are due to become free of debt over the next year, including 23-year-old Rachel Alchin from Wick.
She works full time in finance but built up credit card debt after leaving home. At the same time, her partner was struggling to find work and their debts kept getting bigger, so staff at the Jobcentre recommended they go to CAP for help.
Rachel said: “It was getting to the point where the wages would come in and they were gone before you had even looked at them. It was out of control and there didn’t seem any way of bringing it back. I think we had both just secluded ourselves from everything.
“I was very sceptical at first. The first time we met our befriender, I just sat staring out of the door, feeling it was really overwhelming. It means explaining everything you have ever done in your life and not having the option to leave bits out.”
It was suggested Rachel went for a repayment plan over 15 months, while her partner was recommended a debt relief order, which would have meant his debts being written off. However, they were considering moving and as the order stays on the credit report for six years, they decided it would be better to go with a repayment plan.
Rachel said: “We were going to go for the clean slate but it came with a lot of conditions. Then he got a job, so we were glad we didn’t.
“Having the savings has been very helpful and by this time next year we will both be debt free.”
The arrangement includes paying a lump sum into an account, which CAP then uses to pay all the different creditors.
Rachel said: “It is like having another person there to deal with it for you because you can’t. It is one bulk and it is nice to do it that way. You get your own mind back.
“You have that worry when you can’t pay things and if there is a knock on the door, you don’t want to answer it, but once it all gets taken over, you don’t have to worry. It is like a comforter.
“It has been an experience. It is like we have been taught how to use our own money again. It is actually life-changing if you do it the wrong way.”
Befriender Trudi Owen said the couple can now start planning their wedding and that would not have been possible before.
Trudi is the Littlehampton community links co-ordinator and used CAP to become debt free herself in the past.
She said: “Some of the issues that clients go through mean I can speak to them on a level. There is more empathy than sympathy.
“We are always available if they need us until they are debt free but many do become friends beyond that.”
The process begins when someone struggling with debt calls CAP head office on the freephone number and explains the problems they are having financially. A meeting is then set up with the debt centre manager for the area.
There are three main meetings. The first is an introduction, explaining what CAP is about and the expectations on both sides. The second is to go through the paperwork and fill in an online form detailing debts, income and expenditure.
Trudi said: “It is quite a bit thing to do and as many of our clients are quite vulnerable, this can be done over two or three sessions.
“The debt coach and befriender do not give financial advice, that comes from head office in Bradford.”
A plan is put together for the best way forward to become debt free, which might mean bankruptcy, insolvency or a repayment plan. The third meeting is to go through the options and decide which way to go.
Trudi said: “All the way through, the volunteer befriender stands alongside them to offer support. We do have a lot of clients who refuse to tell their friends and family, so it gives them someone who doesn’t judge who can spend time with them.
“Clients are given a budget plan which includes saving, so they have something to fall back on things go pear-shaped. It puts you back in control. It is about learning respect for money.”