Summer may be over, but the months off school will have left many parents facing additional bills - and with money tighter than ever, many will have found themselves struggling with increased debts.
As a result Debt Action NI, which is part of Advice NI, is urging people who are struggling to seek advice before they become overwhelmed.
Debt Action NI, which has local offices at Dove House, and Caw and Nelson Drive, say that with Northern Ireland having longer summer holidays than England and Wales, families here are hit harder.
Sean McCallion from Debt Action NI’s Derry office says that this can be a very difficult time for many,
“Those most vulnerable or low income families find the summer holidays a stressful time and can lead to those getting into debt to manage children’s expectations and the sheer cost of having extra mouths to feed for two months. “A report recently published by Morrison’s stated the average debt accrued throughout the summer holidays could reach up to as much £500 per household. Meanwhile as children go back to school, the added cost of school uniforms lead to further financial strain According to an American Express report the average school uniform cost in Northern Ireland is £202 per child and is £25 higher than the UK average of £177.30.
“It’s no wonder families struggle to make ends meet.”
The advice charity, which has helped 16,000 clients across Northern Ireland deal with £225 million of debt since August 2012, says the actual cost of summer really adds up when increased grocery bills, childcare costs and entertainment including days out put a strain on the family purse.
Those entitled to free school meals or low cost breakfast clubs run by schools are turning to foodbanks or borrowing money – some who are unable to access main stream credit have to resort to high interest credit such as payday loans or door step loans, running up overdrafts or borrowing from friends and family. Working parents are also hugely affected over the summer months with increased childcare and food costs.
A report recently published by Kellogg’s stated that 1/3 of parents skipped a meal so that their child could eat during the school holidays.
David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, which runs 18 foodbanks across Northern Ireland said: “Nearly 400,000 children were given 3 days emergency food by a Trussell Trust foodbank between April 2014 and March 2015, up 70,000 from the year before.
“As we enter the school holiday period it is a particularly tough time for families and single parents.
“Many of the people with children we meet in foodbanks face additional pressures ranging from disability, mental health issues, family tragedy and domestic violence. Trussell Trust is working in partnership with Advice NI and others to try to support and ultimately prevent people from reaching crisis point.”
Statistics released in 2014/2015 by the Department of Education highlighted that 97,517 children were in receipt of free school meals.
Parents of those children who are on benefits or on extremely low incomes already struggling financially will really feel the pressure at this time of year as they have been faced with finding extra money for meals children would have received in school for free.
Sean McCallion, Debt Action NI, added: “We urge families struggling to cope with mounting financial strains over the summer months to seek advice.
“We can offer free and confidential debt advice, speak to your creditors and try to negotiate lower payments where appropriate.
“We advise everyone not to use high interest lenders, to have a benefit entitlement check carried out to ensure you are in receipt of all of the support you are entitled to.
“We can also make referrals to local foodbanks where necessary.”
In a further response to growing debt issues, The Money Advice Service has this week opened applications for its three-year debt advice funding programme in Northern Ireland (2016-2019), with up to £1 million in the first year available to potential partners.
This funding means that consumers in Northern Ireland will continue to have access to high quality free debt advice across all 11 council areas which will help them get their debts under control and improve their quality of life.
Research commissioned by MAS shows that each year in Northern Ireland, around 24,000 people are actively seeking debt advice. This funding will help ensure that access to high quality free debt advice is available to meet the needs of these consumers.
The grant programme consists of two separate funding streams: Community Wide Projects: Open to organisations to deliver debt advice to over-indebted people in Northern Ireland, with funding available for three years, with up to £800,000 available in year one - and Thematic Projects: Open to organisations who will work to improve engagement with people in Northern Ireland who are not currently coming forward for debt advice. Funding will be available for three years, with up to £200,000 available in the first year. The Thematic Projects funding stream will open for applications on 28 September, 2015.
Organisations wishing to apply should register on the MAS eSourcing portal in order to access information relating to the grant programme, application forms, and guidance. This can be accessed here: mas.bravosolution.co.uk
If you are struggling with debt you don’t have to face it alone. You can contact Debt Action NI by calling the Freephone helpline on 0800 917 4607 to speak directly to an adviser between 8am and 9pm Monday – Friday, and 9am -3pm on a Saturday or you can text the word “Action” to 81025 and an adviser will call you back.
You can browse the dedicated website, www.debtaction-ni.net, where you can chat to a virtual adviser or use an online budgeting tool. You can also find a list of the contact details and location of advisers in your local area on the website.
Sean McCallion of Debt Action NI is based at Dove House Community Trust, 32 Meenan Square, BT48 9EX, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 028 7126 9327
Sean Doran also of Debt Action NI is based at Caw and Nelson Drive, 205-211 Sperrin Park, BT47 6NQ email email@example.com or 028 7127 7143.