According to a 2021 report by Christians Against Poverty (CAP), CAP clients in Northern Ireland earn the highest incomes compared to any other UK country, but also owe the highest amount of debt.
77% of total debt makeup is owed to non-priority creditors, for example, credit cards, unsecured loans and overdrafts, which is notably more than the 67% owed by CAP clients across the UK as a whole.
A new poll today reveals that over half (57 per cent) of people within the UK who have problem debt would not ask family or friends for help. Moreover, a third of respondents (37%) are unaware of where to get financial advice from. The survey, conducted by Savanta ComRes and commissioned by national debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP), aims to shed light on the financial landscape within the UK, and to signpost people to finding the free debt help services they need.
Mental Health UK say that one in four of us in the UK will likely be affected by mental health issues in our lifetime. Here in Northern Ireland, we are reported to have the highest prevalence of mental illness in the UK.
Below is Jonathan’s story. He is a previous client of CAP’s Debt Centre in Finaghy.
Jonathan found himself in debt while grieving the loss of his grandmother who battled both cancer and dementia. 4 and a half years ago, he left his employment to become her full-time carer, so when she passed away, he was relying on his Carers Benefit to survive financially. Amidst his grief and navigating ill-mental health as a result of witnessing his loved one deteriorate with dementia, Jonathan’s plans to return to employment and find work again were delayed. With the loss of benefits he relied on, Jonathan describes his experience of getting into problem debt,
“Probably like a lot of people, you just want to deal with it yourself, you think ‘I can handle it, I’ll get back to work’ and you don’t want to reach out to anyone. So, I put off getting help and advice for money matters for longer than I should have, I just kept thinking ‘I’ll do that when I get back to work’. Then once I’d missed a few direct debits with the bank and fees were being added on, that’s when it kind of got out of control. There was a sense of, ‘I’m a young man, I shouldn’t be in this situation, I should be able to dig myself out of this hole.’ Because I couldn’t easily get myself back into employment again, I felt there was more of a stigma around that. which compounded the problem. With my prior mental health problems and going through the grieving process, it exacerbated things. Every morning was a dread of what letters or phone calls would come through that day. It was very lonely and frustrating. Even though I knew in my head that lots of people struggle with debt, you still feel like you’re the only one.”
Jonathan had heard of CAP through some flyers in his church, but it was a year later when he finally picked up the phone and enquired about the process in 2017.
“It was a year of hoping for the best, hoping that I wouldn’t need to get other people involved. I think when I finally did phone, I was a bit apprehensive, and I wasn’t sure how practical it would be… but I think later down the line I discovered it was practically everything that I needed. It was a professional, but also a compassionate and sensitive process, which gave me the confidence to continue least give it a chance.”
Through support from his local CAP Debt Centre and following a financial assessment by CAP, they negotiated with creditors on Jonathan’s behalf and worked with him to set a monthly budget he could stick to. CAP then applied for a Debt Relief Order and Jonathan became debt free. For Jonathan it was about more than the debt, as he became part of a community through the process.
“People that I’ve met [through CAP], are still friends today…these people genuinely care and take their time regardless, of your background.”
CAP assigned Jonathan a CAP Befriender who would meet with him regularly to go for a walk and a coffee, offering emotional support.
“That was unexpected, but really helpful as well. [The befriender] said, ‘there’s only one rule, we don’t talk about CAP stuff — unless you want to!’ which was nice…it was very personable.”
He later completed the CAP Money Course, meeting others in similar circumstances from various backgrounds.
“there were twelve other participants from a real mix of society, people you think would never get into debt and who come from good jobs. I wondered ‘how can they be in a similar position?’ It was comforting in a way, that anyone can end up in debt.”
Speaking about the whole process Jonathan says,
“It really was a lifeline, it wasn’t just the debt help, it was therapeutic in a way and helped with my mental health as well. I think when you feel so isolated, it’s such a change to open up to people. After the job club they used to serve lunch which was a nice way to socialise with people. Through the befriender, they also keep in touch with where you’re at emotionally, so you aren’t carrying all the stress, all the time.”
Jonathan is currently in employment. When sharing what life is like now he says,
“Certainly, having the debt cleared, having a budget in place and a better way of living has made life a lot less stressful. I’m able to cope within my means and avoid the pitfalls from before. The whole process has changed my mindset and equipped me with more wisdom and life skills.”
Nan Hill, CAP Debt Centre Manager in Finaghy said, “Our local CAP service have walked clients through the debt crisis with support for energy, food and school uniforms, whilst recognising how close they were to the edge. Having CAP’s advice is enormously helpful to enable people to make manageable payments and start paying off their debts.”
Paul Bailie, CAP Debt Centre Manager in Lisburn said, “Since Covid many people have been preoccupied with their physical rather than their financial health. But their debt still remains, usually increases and needs to be faced. My message to the people of Lisburn is to confront their debt issues today – it will help their physical health as well. CAP is highly recommended by Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert, and is a confidential and free service. Take the uncertainty and worry out of your life by phoning 0800 328 0006 and let CAP help you get debt free.”
For more information in how to start your journey in breaking free from debt go to CAPUK’s website