How debt affects us and how UNISON can help

Posted in Branch news

‘I don’t want bailiffs to come to the door’ – how debt affects us and how UNISON can help

UNISON’s Debtline service is available to all our members to help you manage money and deal with debt. We offer free confidential advice to help you clear your debts

Stressed Woman Holding Bills Worried About Bankruptcy Ba

For over 20 years, UNISON has been working in partnership with PayPlan to support members struggling with debt, and to destigmatise debt as a whole.

With the intention of helping members ‘live again’ and get away from fear, pressure and letters, PayPlan is a lifeline.

Jason West, a PayPlan advisor said: “There’s always something we can do to help.
No matter what the circumstances are. There will always be options for help.”

So how do you access UNISON Debtline as a member?
Simply call the UNISON Welfare Debtline on freephone 0800 389 3302. You’ll have an initial chat with one of the trained advisors to get a true reflection of the circumstances.

Gemma Clark, a special advisor, explained: “Some people come to us and they haven’t missed a payment yet, but they’re struggling to cope and are reliant on an overdraft. For others, they haven’t paid debts for months or years. Sometimes they’re panicking because of changing circumstances, like losing a job, separating from a partner or being put on Universal Credit.

“We deal with a really large spectrum of emotion, and we make a note of any vulnerability, like whether they’re suicidal or coping with domestic abuse.

“Some people are happy to go through the whole conversation and others are at their absolute lowest and are saying, ‘I don’t want bailiffs to come to the door’. But we can always offer help. There is always something to be done.”

Gemma spoke to UNISON member Kate [not her real name] who works for the NHS, whose relationship had broken down and was facing overwhelming worries about her monthly repayments.

In a soothing and measured tone, Gemma gently asked a series of questions about incomings, outgoings, debts and personal circumstances. She ran through a monthly budget and built a full profile of the case including salary, value of her home, how much her bills were and whether any family members could help with her repayments.

Meeting non-judgmental ears, Kate was able to give a full picture of her circumstances and hear what her options were.

Recommendations and solutions are always informed by what’s realistic and what an individual wants, and they’re given an agreed time period to reflect on what route they want to take, from Debt Relief Orders (DROs), Individual Voluntary Agreements (IVAs) or bankruptcy.

There’s an emphasis on letting people take their time, as people are always incredibly stressed when they ring, and it’s vital that they don’t feel rushed into making a decision.

Once a route is taken, Debtline organise an annual check-in, or more regular reviews to make sure that everyone is proceeding as planned, and to check whether adjustments need to be made.

Jason West, specialises in organising Debt Relief Orders (DROs), which are similar to bankruptcy but the fee is less. Under a Debt Relief Order, debts are placed on hold for 12 months, and can be written off then if a person’s situation has not improved.

Jason described how much relief people feel once their debts are finally managed: “We regularly get feedback like ‘this is a massive weight off my shoulders’ and that people are ‘seeing the light at the end’.

“People are panicked and distressed when they call because they don’t see any way out of their situation, they panic and stick their head in the sand. No matter what the circumstances are, we can always do something to help.”

Jackie Dolphin, a 62 year-old branch secretary for Hampshire Health  contacted her branch welfare officer when she was experiencing problems with her benefits payments. He passed her details to There For You, who recommended that she contact Debtline.

“After 18 months of worrying I feel like a huge weight has been lifted,” said Jackie. “Jane Clack at Debtline is absolutely amazing. I can’t praise her enough. Caring, kind, thoughtful and knows her stuff. I would absolutely recommend her.

“She recommended me a way forward that I’ve agreed to, and I feel absolutely relieved. Like a black cloud is gone.”

Jackie described feeling conflicted about reaching out for support: “It’s pride. You think ‘no, I can’t’, and then you’ve got to admit that you’ve got into debt, that you’ve made errors. It’s facing up to the fact that that’s what’s happened. Once you’ve faced it, that’s the way forward.

“And with Debtline and people like Jane to walk you through it, you’re not alone.”

If you’re struggling with debt or money worries, speak to your branch welfare officer or call the UNISON Welfare Debtline freephone 0800 389 3302.