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Henry's Blog: How your support will help families with debt

Thanks to your support, there is so much we can do to help defuse debt for the rapidly increasing numbers of families facing financial tragedy. We can:
 

  • Help with emergency need – food, small grants for essentials e.g. school uniforms
  • Negotiate with creditors to make repayments more affordable
  • Help clients access benefits they may not be aware of, such as Council Tax reductions
  • Help clients to get on top of big debts through payment plans, Debt Relief Orders, bankruptcy
  • Help clients to budget really effectively
  • Negotiate with landlords to put a hold on evictions, help with rent arrears and support clients with accessing social housing


And so much more.

But all the indicators are that, in the coming weeks and months, we’ll need to help more people with debt than ever before in our history. So here’s what we’re planning to do so we can help as many as possible.
 

How we’re gearing up to defuse debt

We’re piloting new debt and welfare hubs with partners in Newmarket and Sudbury to enable more people over a wider area to be able to access our help.
 

We’re creating debt/welfare support online tools and resources. Clients with less serious debt are often happy to do the legwork themselves, once we’ve had an initial chat with them. Other clients are reluctant to admit to their debt problems until very late in the day. So for both of these groups, we’re creating online tools and resources where they can learn more about what to do if they have debt, and how we can help (it also has live webchat where they can speak to one of the team.) We’ve already got a few online tools and resources up – you can see them at: www.reachhaverhill.org.uk/selfhelp

We’re improving access to mental health and wellbeing support. Poor mental health can be both a cause and an effect of poverty and debt. So we’re partnering more closely with local mental health and wellbeing charities such as LifeLink, to enable families in need to be more connected to their local community, develop improved self-esteem and confidence. That in turn will mean they are in a better place mentally to deal with their debt issues.

We want to expand our team, by employing an extra staff member to provide debt/welfare advice. We’ll also train volunteers to help with ‘triaging’ new debt clients, taking them through a fact-finding questionnaire and organising immediate support such as foodboxes. This will speed things up for clients, and by the time they are passed on to staff for debt support work, much of the necessary paperwork will have been done.
 

If you would like to support us to gear up to help more struggling families, you can donate here
 

 

 


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Henry's Blog: The silent threat of losing your home

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In my last blog I looked at why we think a debt time-bomb is about to go off. But many facing debt are also under threat of losing their homes.

When you get behind with payments because you’re struggling with debt, it’s credit card companies and banks that shout the loudest for you to pay them what you owe. But actually, these are what are called ‘non-priority’ debts and their bark is worse than their bite. Failing to keep on top of rent or mortgage payments has far more serious consequences. 

According to poverty charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation, around 11% of all renters are worried about being evicted in the next three months, half of which are families with children. And 20% of all renters are worried about paying their rent over the same period[1]. Around 8,800 families in REACH’s catchment area rent their homes. So on that basis, we could be looking at nearly 1000 families being under threat of eviction, and around 1700 worrying that they won’t be able to pay their rent. Around 75 families with mortgages are likely to be in arrears[2]. We’re already seeing many families in rent or mortgage arrears – about 80% of our current debt clients are in this position.

NB. If you do find yourself unable to pay your rent or mortgage, it’s imperative that you get in touch with your landlord or mortgage provider as soon as possible.  Don’t bury your head in the sand!

Another blow to renters is the 20% cut to Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) [3]. At REACH we use DHPs regularly as a means of part paying rent arrears for clients which often opens the door to being able to negotiate with landlords and put a hold on evictions while we help clients get on top of debt.

The threat of eviction is a feeling like nothing else.  It’s not just ‘eviction’ or losing our house.  It’s your HOME!  I once heard a former Archbishop of Canterbury say that we never call someone ‘houseless’ but ‘homeless’.  As Dorothy said in that wonderful place called Oz said: “there’s no place like home!”
 

REACH helps to lift people out of the misery that comes with debt and hardship. Already, more and more families are coming to us for help – including those at risk of losing their homes. We want to do all we can to help free each and every family from debt, for good.


Will you help us to help them?
 

Click here to donate now and defuse a debt 

If you already give a regular gift to REACH, we’re extremely grateful to you, as are the families that we support - read how you helped Richard avoid losing his home.
 

In my next blog, I’ll tell you more about how we plan to support many more families facing pandemic-related debt.

 


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Henry's Blog: Why a debt time-bomb is about to go off

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Very shortly there’s going to be a massive rise in the number of people facing personal financial tragedy. This ticking time bomb is getting ever closer to exploding.  It appears that the most ‘imperfect’ storm is brewing and likely to hit land this autumn.


We know many people are only managing to cover their outgoings by borrowing on their credit cards but soon they will reach their limit and they won’t be able to afford the repayments. (According to debt charity StepChange, 67% of their new clients had credit card debt[1].) At worst, their credit card debt could mean their home is repossessed, if their card is secured to a property.

Other people have only been getting by through Covid-related government support – it’s been an incredible lifeline to many, many people over the last year and a half. But in some respects, it’s only masked a growing problem or effectively ‘kicked the can down the road’.

Now, with the pandemic loosening its grip on everyday life, those government interventions have started to be withdrawn, for example: 

  • Evictions had been put on hold, but as of 31st May, they restarted.  However, this is likely to take at least 2-3 months to really kick-in because of court delays and the statutory notice period.  Therefore – September/October!
  • This happens to coincide with the ending of furlough (30th September) when it is possible that jobs will no longer be available.  Add to mix that the 12 month ‘borrow now, pay later’ ‘bounce-back loans’ are kicking in, some businesses will unfortunately not survive!
  • The end of September also sees the ending of the Universal Credit top-up.  The additional £20 per week is a lifeline to many low income families.  That’s a reduction of £86 per month – for many that is most of the shopping bill!


In short, many people have seen their incomes reduced due to the pandemic, are already sitting on a ton of debt and are running out of options. That combined with the withdrawal of government safety net of support is what will drive this next wave of debt.

As Jo Goodhall our most senior debt advisor says “The accumulative financial pressure over the last 18 months of lower income is driving people into debt.  It’s not that people are overspending, it’s just the sustained low income that’s really beginning to bite.  Quite simply, there’s just no flex left!”

Debt makes you fearful – fearful to answer the door, open letters, answer the phone. You feel useless, a failure - you look at others and compare yourself and you feel such a failure. Above all, debt overwhelms you with a sense of hopelessness and a real belief that things will never get any better.
 

Already, more and more families are coming to us for help and the numbers are just going to keep climbing. We want to do all we can to help free each and every family from debt, for good.

Will you help us to help them?
 

Click here to donate now and defuse a debt 

If you already give a regular gift to REACH, we’re extremely grateful to you, as are the families that we support – read how you helped Josie when she and her children fled abuse.
 

In my next blog, I’ll explain why and how debt leads to the threat of homelessness.

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2020-09-02 10.07.22 1

Mental health during Covid times

Debt and financial hardship can both result from, and be a cause of, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Sadly, we’re seeing more and more people in this situation – here is Philippa, one of our Community Outreach Advisers to tell you a bit more.

Having worked for years with people who struggle with their mental health and having been on my own roller coaster, which has, at times had extreme lows - I know how important it is for people to be aware of the things that affect their mental health, to look at what they can do to help themselves and to find out where they can get support.  

I have come to recognise the factors that can be protective for our mental wellbeing, but so many of these have been affected by Covid. These are things such as relationships with family and friends, having somewhere safe and secure to live, financial stability, a sense of purpose and a positive identity (which can be helped through work, volunteering, caring role, a social club), and perhaps most importantly, hope!  

So many clients that I see every week had been managing to function in everyday life, or at least as far as the world could see but Covid-19 put everything under a huge magnifying glass that brought that fragile house of cards tumbling down. Not being able to meet with friends or family for a coffee and a chat which may have been what was helping them hold things together. People not being able to afford the heating or electricity needed when children were being home schooled, or they were working from home or on furlough. Not having that routine of going to work and feeling that sense of achievement or seeing work colleagues. Not knowing when Covid-19 will end.  

However, I do want to stress that there is always HOPE! Take for example, my lovely client Shona. She was managing well by keeping busy. She had a good job and a lovely family. Then she had to stay off work when her children were sent home from school in the first lockdown. All of a sudden she had to stop the busyness of her life and had time to think. Traumatic memories from the past began to resurface and there were no distractions to push them away. Shona’s anxiety became heightened to the point she felt unable to go out or meet with friends, not that she would have been allowed to at that time. Shona then lost her job as she wasn’t well enough to return to work when her sick leave came to an end. Whilst all this was going on Shona was struggling to work out how to budget monthly on benefits instead of weekly and on significantly less money. Shona was getting into debt, it was starting to spiral out of control and it was constantly on her mind, heightening her anxiety, lowering her mood and stopping her from sleeping. On top of all of this, she was being threatened with court action and bailiffs.  

We were able to help Shona work out a monthly budget that kept her within the money she had coming in. We had access to funding to help pay off a significant proportion of her electricity and gas arrears. The utilities company had been refusing to let Shona set up a direct debit without paying her arrears but when we became involved this changed. Shona was able to set up a direct debit to cover her monthly usage and a manageable amount towards her arrears. We helped Shona apply for disability benefits to help her be more financially stable until she is able to work again. Shona is receiving support with her mental health and is starting to get back on her feet. I hear hope in her voice when I speak with her and she is looking towards the future and speaking about the things she wants to do with her family when she is well enough.  

Although not the easiest thing to do, Shona did the most important thing that any of us need to do if we are struggling. She asked for help! Had she not asked things could easily have continued to spiral out of control with her debts and her anxiety and depression becoming worse. You may feel like you are the only person experiencing what you are, but I want to say to you today that you are not alone and there are people and organisations out there who can help. When 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year in England and 1 in 6 experience a common mental health problem like anxiety or depression in any given week we need to remove the stigma that makes people feel they have to keep it a secret. It is amazing that when I have plucked up the courage to mention to friends how I am feeling, how many of them can identify having been there, and how just voicing my fears and getting them out into the light of day made them feel more manageable. As the client I spoke to today said,  
 

“I just feel better for speaking to someone and to have got the ball rolling”   

 

I have listed some organisations below where you can get help. Please do not struggle on alone!  
For debt, help with utilities, white goods and applying for benefits… 

call Reach on 01440 712950 or email info@reachhaverhill.org.uk  
 

For help with mental health… 

Contact your GP who can refer you to emotional wellbeing services or you can self refer to Wellbeing Suffolk (free NHS service) via their website or by phone. They offer 1:1 support, self help, webinars and counselling for individuals, couples and families.  
0300 123 1503 
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk/suffolk/   

First Response is a helpline for people of all ages in Norfolk and Suffolk who need urgent mental health support. The helpline is available all day, every day. 
If you are feeling unsafe, distressed or worried about your mental health.  Telephone the helpline on 0808 196 3494 
https://www.nsft.nhs.uk/first-response
 

General Wellbeing 

If you have an interest in developing your general wellbeing you might benefit from coaching with LifeLink. The LifeLink coordinators connect people to social activities, clubs, groups and local services that are on offer in their local community. They can also coach participants on a one-to-one basis, working together to find each person’s ways to improve their wellbeing and meet their needs. To find out more please visit their website where you can self-refer or ask Reach to make a referral for you. 

If you are not in Suffolk, or you have a specific need not mentioned above you can find out which Mental Health services are available in your area, visit https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/mental-health  
  

Philippa Waller, 07/05/2021

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