Helping people struggling with debt – Talk Money Week

Wed 14 Nov 2018

Ashamed, alone, embarrassed, scared, anxious and hopeless – these are just some of the words people struggling with debt have used to describe their situation.

Around 20 people have been bravely sharing their stories with Tai Tarian as part of its ongoing work to help end high cost credit and provide financial advice and support to those in need.

The Neath Port Talbot social housing organisation, in partnership with Toynbee Hall, has set up a Making Money Work Better group to understand the reality of life for people in the local community who are struggling with debts and find ways of helping them manage their money better.

The group provides a safe and confidential environment to talk about the difficulties of coping with debts.

Today (November 15), two members of the group, will be sharing their experiences at the Wales Talk Money Conference, led by the Money Advice Service, at Cardiff Castle.

The event is part of a special Talk Money Week that aims to encourage everyone to have an open conversation about money so people can feel more in control and know that help is available.

Tai Tarian Chief Executive Linda Whittaker said, “We know that debt and high cost credit is wide spread in the communities we serve. Working with Toynbee Hall we wanted to find out directly from people themselves what the lived experience of debt is like.

“We are extremely grateful to those who took part. Their experiences have been moving, powerful and invaluable. We are committed to working with the group to find fairer alternatives which will benefit communities across Neath Port Talbot and Wales.”

The work of the group is an integral part of the End High Cost Credit Alliance, founded by actor Michael Sheen and of which Tai Tarian is a key partner.

The Alliance aims to end the damage caused by high cost credit through taking new and collaborative approaches to tackling changes in regulation, policy, public debate and investment in fairer alternatives.

As well as working with the group, which is made up of Tai Tarian tenants and local people from the Neath Port Talbot area, the housing association has been carrying out further research on the levels of debt locally and looking at ways it can practically help.

Working with the Money Advice Service it has looked at levels of over- indebtedness in the area. The definition of “over-indebted” was derived from the two questions within the FinCap and YouGov surveys. Respondents must have answered either: 

  • I find meeting my monthly bills/commitments a heavy burden; and/or
  • I have missed bill payments in three or more months out of the last six months 

Initial findings show that just over 19% of people answered yes to both of these questions and in certain areas of Neath Port Talbot this rose to 25%.

Research has also shown that within the borough many people have levels of debt ranging from £8k to £20k.

Tai Tarian is committed to providing as much help and support to local people as it can and is about to launch a new training programme that will enable its staff to have the confidence to talk to tenants about financial worries, offer support and signpost them to services that can offer debt advice.

This progress will be discussed this week at the second meeting of the Wales Affordable Credit Action group meeting which is being held at Tai Tarian headquarters and the End High Cost Credit Alliance UK meeting in Cardiff.

Case Studies – please note names have been changed to protect the individual’s identity
Case Study One
When Amy Roberts’ (*not her real name) partner left her she felt sure she could continue to manage the mortgage on her own even when a family member moved in and she had to look after him. She had a full time job and had always managed her finances.

Over the next eight years however, Amy found herself using credit cards to make ends meet and because she always made the minimum payment each month thought things were ok. Before she knew it, her debts had spiralled out of control until she owed £15,000.

“I woke up one morning and realised that I couldn’t go on like this,” said Amy, who lives in Port Talbot.  “I had buried my head in the sand for such a long time and never felt I could tell anyone that I was in trouble, not my parents, not my friends.

“I felt completely alone and ridiculous. I am grown woman with a full time job, I shouldn’t be in this position.

“I decided to do something about it but found it increasingly difficult. I applied for lower cost consolidation loans but organisations turned me down due to affordability, which I didn’t understand at all. They didn’t explain what that meant.

“My final point of call was Step Change who were the first organisation to really explain to me what I needed to do. This included seeing what I could cut back on, moving my debt to 0% deals and making sure I only used cash rather than chip and pin, so I could see what I was really spending my money on.

“When I joined the Making Money Work Better group I realised that I was not alone in struggling with debt and being too embarrassed to ask for help. All of us were in the same situation whether we were in jobs or on benefits. I got a safe space to talk without being judged and I got ideas about what else I could do.

“What I needed organisations to say at the start was that we can’t help you but we know someone who can.”

Case Study Two
When Sandra Jones (*not her real name) found herself suddenly alone following an incident of domestic abuse, she was left in charge of everything with very little money to live on. She didn’t understand the financial decisions she was making or the fact that some of those decisions would have a lasting impact.

“Joining the Making Money Work Better group has been a life-saver helping me to speak about my money worries for the first time and to be supported to get the right kind of help,” said Sandra, who lives in Port Talbot.

“I was able to talk about my problems and not feel ashamed or stupid. When I was in the middle of a crisis I didn’t know the right questions to ask and I didn’t have the emotional strength to tell anyone how scared I was of suddenly having to make all these decisions.

“If someone had asked me ‘are you confident in managing your finances or do you need some support?’ I would have been able to ask for help before things went wrong and my debt felt impossible to control.

“Since joining the group I have learnt more about how to manage my finances, received help and for the first time I feel hopeful for the future rather than hopeless.”