Debt help from Citizens Advice

In our latest video, editor Clare Francis is with debt adviser Julie Griffiths from Citizens Advice to discuss what you can do if you are struggling with debt…

Clare Francis: January is always a tough month financially because of Christmas bills that need repaying and winter fuel bills. But this year it could be even worse because of the impact of the credit crunch and the recession and everything like that, so I’m with Julie Griffiths today, who is a debt adviser at Citizens Advice Bureau just to ask about what she is seeing and to offer some help and advice if you are struggling to pay off your Christmas bills.

Q1: Thanks for coming Julie. January is the month that’s often the hardest of the year. The Christmas credit card bills are going to start coming in the next week or two, if they haven’t already started landing on door mats. What advice do you have to people who perhaps can’t afford to pay it off all in one go?

Julie Griffiths: The best thing to do is first, sit down and draw up a budget sheet really - list everything you have got coming in and going out and try and prioritise the expenditure that you have got.
So things like rent, mortgage, fuel bills, council tax need to be paid first before anything else, and then obviously if you have got further expenditure look at ways of cutting down on that - perhaps reduce spending on luxury items and then look at your budget and see if you can afford to pay those bills or not.

Q2: Are you seeing a surge in the number of people coming to you for help?

JG: Yes definitely, in the last financial year we have seen a major increase in the number of debt enquiries and debt is now the biggest enquiry area for the Citizens Advice Bureau nationally.

Q3: And presumably it could get even worse this year couldn’t it, because we have got the recession, we have seen thousands of jobs being cut just in the last week or so at big names like Nissan and Marks and Spencers. Are you preparing yourself for a record year?

JG: I think definitely, I agree with you, it can only get worse. If the redundancies do come in like forecasters are suggesting, it’s only going to make things more difficult for people.

Q4: I think one of the things last year was the credit crunch wasn’t it? It was the fact that people couldn’t get access to loans that they perhaps assumed they would be able to get, so it was people who were already in debt, whereas I suppose a redundancy is a sudden loss of income, so you might have been managing alright and then suddenly you have got a household that loses a valuable stream of income and you are stuck. What advice can you give to people, how do you prepare yourself in case that happens?

JG: Just to check that you have got adequate cover for things like your mortgage - have you got payment protection insurance on your mortgage that will cover you for redundancy, and if possible to try and save a little bit each week or each month, whatever you can afford, just so you have got that pot of money put aside then for any emergencies.

Q5: You mentioned doing the budgeting and expenses and looking at what is coming in and going out -  once you have done that what are the next course of options, if you simply haven’t got enough money to cover everything, what can you do for people? 

JG: We can help people to negotiate lower payments with their creditors or for some people a debt management plan might be an option, or sometimes personal bankruptcy or an IVA.

It’s never too late to come and get advice - there is always something that can be done about the situation.

Q6: And how willing are creditors to accept lower monthly payments?

JG: Well, it varies, but overall I think creditors are starting to realise that there’s so many people now in financial difficulty that they have got to start helping their customers out basically.

Q7: And what type of people are we talking about, because I think its not just people on low income necessarily is it, this problem at the moment is affecting everybody?

JG: Yes, we see people ranging from benefits, or income support, which are the lowest rate of money that you can live on really, right up to people with really good salaries of £50,000, £60,000 a year.

CF: And they have suddenly had a change of circumstance…

JG: Yes, a change of circumstance that has pushed them into difficulty.

CF: Thanks very much for that Julie, so I guess the key message to anybody who is worried is not to panic - don’t struggle on your own and to get in touch with yourselves?

JG: Absolutely, you should get advice from a charity like Citizens Advice or the Consumers Credit Counselling Service or National Debtline they will offer free independent advice on any debt issues.

CF: Lovely, thank you for your time.

JG: Thank you.

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