Advice and support for Fifers struggling with post-Christmas debt worries

Evidence has shown that Fifers are struggling on a day to day basis to sustain everyday household items, for example food and fuel. Pic: Toby Williams/TSPL
Evidence has shown that Fifers are struggling on a day to day basis to sustain everyday household items, for example food and fuel. Pic: Toby Williams/TSPL

Many Fifers will be feeling the pinch after Christmas after spending money on food, drink and presents for loved ones.

But for some, the festive period may have brought additional stress if they are already struggling with debt and money problems.

The top three issues last year from Fifers experiencing financial difficulties were credit card debt, unsecured loans (for example bank loans) and Council Tax arrears.

The top three issues last year from Fifers experiencing financial difficulties were credit card debt, unsecured loans (for example bank loans) and Council Tax arrears.

However, there are local organisations which are on hand to help anyone who might be worrying about their finances and how they are going to manage their bills after Christmas.

If you live or work in the Kingdom, whoever you are and whatever the problem is, one organisation which is there to offer support is Citizens Advice and Rights Fife (CARF).

It provides free information and advice on a wide range of subjects, including debt and money advice.

There are a number of different ways that the team at CARF can help you solve your problems.

CARFs Money Advice Unit has a team of specialist advisers who provide free, confidential, independent money advice and debt management services. Pic: John Devlin.

CARFs Money Advice Unit has a team of specialist advisers who provide free, confidential, independent money advice and debt management services. Pic: John Devlin.

The staff won’t tell you what to do, as they leave the choice up to you, but they will explain your options and what the possible outcomes you might expect if you choose a particular course of action.

CARF’s Money Advice Unit has a team of specialist advisers who provide free, confidential, independent money advice and debt management services. The unit deals with over 2000 enquiries each year and employ fully trained advisers to assist with all sorts of financial issues, from repossession to bankruptcy.

June Menzies, money advice manager at Citizens Advice and Rights Fife - which has offices in Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath, Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, Leven, Cupar and a satellite office in St. Andrews along with an outreach service in Buckhaven - said CARF takes a holistic approach to people’s debts.

She said: “A holistic service means that we not only look at the enquiry the client comes to us with, but we also look at the “bigger picture.”

“Our team of skilled advisers recognise that one problem is often linked to another. For example if a client told us she/he was in debt because she/he had recently lost their job and had no money we would explain to that client about any dismissal rights and benefit entitlements.

“As well as working with clients to solve their problems, we take the information provided to us by clients (always protecting a client’s identity), anonymise it and then use it as evidence to show problems that affect lots of people.

“This evidence makes it possible for us to campaign for policy changes where they are needed.”

She continued: “The number of enquiries we had last year were similar to the previous year but we have noted an increase in the complexity of enquiries.

“For example, people are unfairly dismissed from work, then they don’t get benefits and they struggle to pay debt. A client not receiving essential expenditure could result in input from more than one adviser for assistance with three separate issues.

“We have also seen issues with zero hour contracts resulting in fluctuating income and benefit entitlement increasing need for ongoing queries and support.”

June said the top three issues last year from Fifers experiencing financial difficulties were credit card debt, unsecured loans (for example bank loans) and Council Tax arrears.

But the money advice manager said communication is key to helping people and showing them the options available to them: “Clients frequently tell us of the relief they feel having spoken to a debt adviser,” she said.

“Once a client has a budget/plan (financial statement) in place they tell us it feels like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

“The financial statement can enable clients to budget, ensure essential expenditure is met (such as rent/mortgage, council tax and utilities), monitor spending as well as progressing whichever debt remedy they have chosen.

“Routine contact between our advisers and clients is essential and clients can return to us at any time for additional advice on the same or other issues.”

She added: “Clients tell us on a regular basis that their mental health improves once they have a solution/ outcome to their situation.”

June said it is too early to say whether or not their has been a significant increase in people seeking help for debt following Christmas and New Year, but said: “What we can say (anecdotally) is that our money advice telephone service has been busy answering telephoning enquiries from clients with debt related enquiries since the festive break.”

June also said it was also too early to tell what effect Universal Credit has had: “As Universal Credit full roll out came to Fife on December 6 it is too early to comment on the impact. However, from December 6 advisers have dealt with over 200 Universal Credit enquiries.”

She explained debt problems for locals is not caused by people splashing out on smartphones or expensive luxuries: “We do not have evidence that our clients indebtedness is caused by buying new telephones or ipads etc,” she said.

“However, we do have evidence that clients are struggling on a day to day basis to sustain everyday household items, for example food and fuel.

“This is in part caused by the rising cost of living while earnings are not keeping up with inflation.”

Anyone looking for debt help can contact the CARF money advice line on 0345 1400 094, from 8.30a.m to 4p.m Monday to Friday.

On contacting the CARF Money Advice Helpline, people will receive immediate advice and where appropriate, they will be given details on how to obtain a face to face appointment with an adviser.

People can also contact CARF via their website at www.cabfife.org.uk and follow them on Facebook and Twitter @cabfife.