Sean McCallion is a Debt and Money Adviser working out of Dove House in the Bogside. Sean says that with almost 30 years experience of working in finance, he has never witnessed debt problems as bad in Derry as he has in the past few years.
Sean, with fellow Debt and Money Advisers Michael Lyttle and Na Li, are part of the Debt Action NI team working under the management of the Dove House Community Trust.
Sean, Michael and Na work with a wide array of clients from right across the city, the Waterside and Strabane. They offer people advice on how to manage debt and should their circumstances deem it necessary, they can assist clients with filing for bankruptcy and debt relief orders.
“We are dealing with house repossessions, redundancies and bankruptcies on a daily basis,” says Sean.
“I don’t think the vast majority of people out there are aware of just how dire the situation is. When the changes to housing benefit kick in next year, things are going to get much, much worse,” he added.
Na, who moved to Derry from the northern Chinese province of Hebei six years ago, worked for the C.A.B. for five years as a Debt and Money Adviser before taking up her new role with Dove House Community Trust. In the next few weeks, Na will be permanently based in the Caw/Nelson Drive Action Group building in the Waterside.
“I will be in the Waterside, Sean will be in Dove House and Michael will be in Strabane so it’s hoped that we can reach and help as many people as possible. I think it’s important to stress that there is help and support out there for people who are experiencing difficulties with debt and finance.”
Michael Lyttle has ten years’ experience of working with debt and finance management. Michael has worked for the Dove House Community Trust since January 2010 and said that the same problems are being faced by people in Strabane.
“I can think of so many cases where it’s almost impossible for the people to pay back the money they owe.
“I had one client who bought a house when the housing market in Northern Ireland was at its peak. Through no fault of his own, he became ill and was unable to fulfil his mortgage repayments.
“The man bought the house for £150,000. He was forced to sell the house for less than £50,000 which meant he still owed over £100,000 - he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy.”
Michael said that bankruptcy is a viable option for many people with debt problems but said that it doesn’t stop people feeling a sense of despair when it happens.
“Bankruptcy is a great option for people who are feeling the pressure of debt problems. While some people have no problem with it, I have dealt with clients who struggle to come to terms with it. But what I say to them is this - what you prefer to have, filing for bankruptcy or the sick feeling you get every time a letter comes through the door or when the phone rings?”
Brian (not his real name) is from Derry and had been experiencing difficulties repaying his mortgage. Despite Brian’s best efforts to convince the mortgage company of his situation, they refused to listen. Brian was at his wits end but said after he contacted Debt Action NI at Dove House it was as if all the pressure he had been experiencing over the past 12 months had been released.
“This has been a huge help to me. The organisation has really helped me reduce stress and get help financially. I don’t know where I would be without it. I have recommended this service fully,” said Brian.
“My stress and worry changed for the better considerably. The service I received was at a very high standard and very confidential.
“I feel this service is very important in this current climate. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the advice service for all their help and support they have given me,” he added.
Kate (not her real name) was at her wits end when she contacted Debt Action NI. Kate said that without her service her physical and mental health would have continued to deteriorate.
“This service is excellent and I do not exaggerate when I say that the advice and actions carried out have saved me from utter despair and the loss of my home,” she said.
“My adviser had quick understanding of my situation and certainly helped me get some peace of mind while he continued to advise and guide me through my financial situation.
“I could not have received any better service. I had nowhere to turn and felt that without this service my mental and physical health would have worsened. I received professional and beneficial help and would like to thank the team for doing such a great job and helping me.”
Maureen Collins is the manager of the Dove House Community Trust Neighbourhood Assist Programme.
Maureen said that she was delighted that Debt Action N.I. chose Dove House as the host organisation for their debt advice service in Derry and Strabane. She said that as a result, more local people will not have to endure the plight of money worries alone.
“I am so happy that PayPlan won the tender from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and decided to award the hosting of the service to Dove House.
“At Dove House, we have been doing this kind of work for years but with the addition of both Sean McCallion and Na Li, it means that we are able to help more people.
“I think it’s important to stress that the people we are dealing with come from every walk of life and from every part of the city.
“The thing with debt is that it doesn’t make exceptions for anyone.
“Some of the people who use our service were used to a comfortable lifestyle, nice house and good money. But after losing their job, through no fault of their own, they are faced with the reality of debt problems and house repossession - this is where we can help.
“People reading this article should know that they have many options available to them. They should know that they are not alone and all they have to do is lift the phone or drop into one of our drop in centres in Dove House, Strabane and Caw/Nelson Drive.”
If you live in Strabane, contact Michael Lyttle on 07578239978 or 028 7188 4307. Or if you are from Derry and would like to speak to Na or Sean, telephone Dove House on 028 7126 9327
Contact the Debt Action N.I. team on free phone number 0800 917 4607, text ‘ACTION’ to 81205 (local network rates apply) or visit www.debtaction-ni.net