Demands on debt advice service at new levels

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Demands for help from debt ridden Roe Valley residents has reached unprecedented levels, the ‘Journal’ has learned.

Previously, anyone seeking help from Debt Action NI, based at LCDI in Limavady, was able to drop in and get an appointment but, for the first time, the service has a waiting list.

“We’ve never been busier and the demand is huge,” said Trudie Hylands, Money & Debt Adviser with Debt Action NI in Limavady.

“We actually have a waiting list, although I will always see someone who is at crisis point. Right now, things are pretty bad.”

Ms Hylands said, on average, the service is taking on five to six new clients each week.

In the last three months alone, 45 new clients from the Roe Valley area, with a collective debt of £1.3 million, have sought help.

The average personal debt for clients, for loans and credit card debt, is around £20,000, said Ms Hylands.

Another problem area is mortgage shortfall debt, up to £90,000-100,000, said Ms. Hylands.

“In the Roe Valley, since the start of the recession, I’m seeing more and more mortgage debt, and people going to court over things like rates.

“I’m also seeing a lot of voluntary surrenders, where clients are handing back the keys themselves, and that’s all across the district.

“We’re not just talking about ex-Executive homes. We’re talking about big houses, where people who have lost their job and just cannot continue and are in negative equity.”

Ms Hylands said she is also seeing clients whose marriage has broken down and one partner is left with the house which they cannot continue to pay mortgage payments on.

She fears things will get much worse once welfare reforms kick in, but stresses the most important thing for anyone in financial difficulty is to seek help immediately.

“I can’t make the debt go away; I don’t have a magic wand, but I can support people manage their debt,” she said.

“It’s when people don’t engage with the process, and instead bury their heads in the sand, and don’t seek help, that’s when things get out of control.”

Ms Hylands said for the first time charities working primarily in developing countries are now working in towns like Limavady, supplying food parcels for families struggling to feed their children and heat their homes.

“I see families really struggling. One mother told me recently she had £6 to feed the family on that. It’s crazy, and I know of charities here in the town handing out food parcels. It’s horrendous,” she said.

“If people need help we should be their first point of contact. We have the website, the freephone number and I’m here. We can look at the problem, look at the budget and the debt.

“We see a lot of people who are paying their debt, but can’t feed their family or heat their home, but we can sort all that and get people into a position where they can actually live and have have adequate provisions for their family. Then we’ll look at the debt and we can also refer them onto a charity to get help. It’s essential people don’t wait. Come and see us and we will help you.

“The Limavady borough has consistently scored as one of the most indebted across Northern Ireland so we feel it’s important to make sure as many people as possible know that we’re here and that we can help!”

Ms Hylands said despite the demands for help, the service can be accessed in a number of ways.

“People can call me directly on 028 777 29148 or our Freephone helpline 0800 917 4607 to speak directly to an adviser between 8am and 9pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 3pm on a Saturday.

“They can log onto our dedicated website, www.debtaction-ni.net and send an appointment request, email an adviser or interact with our virtual adviser. We also have a list of the contact details and location of advisers in your local area on our website.

“People can also text the word ‘Action’ to 81025 and an adviser will call them back. Advisers offer face to face appointments and home visits to those who are most vulnerable.”