Friday, 19 January 2018.

Practical advice to help you manage debt

12 January, 2018

We all know that Christmas and New Year is an expensive time – brought fully home when the credit card bills hit the doormat in the first half of January.

For some, the cost comes as a double whammy, adding to an already large mountain of debt.

Practical help though is close at hand. Bechange Community Hub runs twice weekly sessions from its base at the Aylesham Community Workshop site to help people prioritise their payments and gain a better understanding of budgeting.

Over the past months, much of Bechange’s support work has centred around assisting people claiming benefits and those who have been moved to Universal Credits. The delay of up to six weeks between making a verified claim and receiving any money has proved a difficult time for many.

Bechange support worker Nicky Cox is at pains to point out that Universal Credit works well for most claimants once they are fully integrated into the system, but the application process and delays of several weeks has left people facing a bleak period, sometimes relying on foodbanks, falling behind with rent or even borrowing money from unscrupulous loan sharks to tie them over.

She said: “New benefit claimants and those with a change of circumstances are being moved to Universal Credits, ahead of full roll out in this area by 2019.

“What a lot of people may not realise is that when they apply, other benefits they may be getting  like Job seekers’ Allowance, tax credits and Income Support, stop right away. Their application requires their verified identification to be made in person at the Job Centre in Dover and that is the starting point for the delay of up to six weeks before they get any more money. In practice, the gap between benefits ending and Universal Credit starting may be longer.

“We have been helping people from Aylesham and surrounding areas with applications, making their ID appointments for them in Dover – and occasionally helping them get to it – as well as talking to the agencies they make regular payments like their landlords or the utilities companies to help manage their bills. Bechange work in partnership with the local Food Bank and can also provide foodbank vouchers for those in need of help providing food and essentials.

“Some people who come to us for help don’t have internet access or an email address so we set them up with one to enable them to track their application. Once they have their money, we can offer more advice about prioritising and paying off arrears – and often that is several hundred pounds.

“A lot of people are used to paying bills weekly so switching to monthly payments and making their money last can prove a real challenge.

“One claimant has told us they are very glad to have had our support – they had more help from us in one hour than they did in a month of trying to work with official agencies.”

Bechange holds its Drop In Advice Sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays between 10am and 12pm. Some appointments can be made for people outside of these times too.

Contact Bechange on 01304 840134 or visit its website www.bechange.org.uk for more information.

*Loan sharks are illegal money lenders who make your life a misery. Call 0300 555 2222 or visit www.stoploansharks.co.uk to safely report a loan shark in your area.