Debt and Relationships
Right about this time of year is a time a lot of us are dreading. We can all imagine the sound of credit card bills hitting the doormat with an ominous thump, a reminder of how much we’ve spent over the holiday period last year. And what’s worse, your partner has no idea how much you’ve spent or where you got the money from.
I have worked for Citizens Advice in one capacity or another for the past five years now and unfortunately like clockwork there are always two things that the CAB deal with after the holidays, that’s mostly debt and relationship breakdowns. This article is mainly about debt but please read on for some side advice on what to do when your relationship comes to an end, because sometimes the two become inextricably linked.
Families always want to provide the best Christmas possible for their loved ones, but unfortunately they don’t always necessarily have the means to do so. They overspend on their credit cards, or if that’s not an option open to them, they seek other, more expensive means such as payday lenders. The problem is, sometimes a partner makes the decision to borrow money without the other’s knowledge and this only comes to light when demands for loan payments start. You may be able to hide this for so long, but when the phone calls start as well, then it becomes more and more difficult to deal with, which in itself can puts a strain on things.
I won’t go into statistics of how expensive it is to borrow money, especially from payday lenders. It would be patronising to you and not least because it’s boring. The purpose of me writing this article is to tell you that there is help out there for those who may feel overwhelmed when the credit card bill does finally hits your doormat and you’re left with the daunting task of having to pay for the dim and distant memory that is last Christmas.
If you’re reading this you will have access to a computer, so the necessary tools are within your reach. Google can be a powerful friend. If you know what keywords to use it can find you all sorts of information, empowering you with the sort of knowledge that once upon a time you had to pay for. There are free organisations such as National Debtline and the Money Advice Service. National Debtline is a charity organisation which has been giving free advice to customers for many years. It has a freephone number which is operational six days a week. ( 0808 808 4000 )It’s privately and publicly funded by the government and various other organisations – which means as there is no one specific partner you can rest assured that the advice you receive will be impartial. There is also its sister, Business Debtline for those small business owners who may have run into financial trouble and find that keeping going is no longer a viable option.
The Money Advice Service is fully funded by the government, but that’s where their involvement ends. Their advice is also impartial and their advice is bespoke and catered solely for each customer. Their adviceline number is also open six days a week and costs the same as a local number, free if it’s provided so by your service provider. ( 0300 500 5000 )
If you prefer to speak to somebody face to face, as a lot of people do, then you can always try and see if there might be a law centre near you. The law centre gives free, one off legal advice at evening surgeries a few times a week. Most of their staff is usually made up of volunteers – they can be solicitors giving up their free time, trainee solicitors cutting their teeth on their chosen area of law, or even caseworkers. As I say, the advice is free, the only caveat is that you may not be able to go back for the same issue twice; do check that this might be the case at your local law centre. You should also be aware that as they are free, expect them to be very busy and booked quickly in advance.
Law centres can also be used when seeking advice if your relationship has broken down due to constant money worries or indeed, overspending last Christmas was the final straw. If your marriage or partnership has reached an irretrievable impasse and your funds are limited, then they may be able to help. You can get advice on your rights regarding the children, property and possessions. Also if you’re on benefits such as Income Support or Employment Support Allowance, or your income is low, you may even be entitled to legal aid; Google the ‘Law Society’, an umbrella list of law firms part-funded by the government. When you find the one of your choice that specialises in either family or relationship law, ask them to assess you for legal aid, but if for whatever reason you don’t qualify, you can still ask about their fixed fees, which means, based on the personal information you give them, they can give you a quote so you’ll have some idea of your bill before you make that first step in engaging their services, thereby avoiding those unpleasant surprises when you’re presented with a bill at the end of your case.
Also remember, as long as you have access to the internet, you can get a lot of information online from Citizens Advice’s website Adviceguide and also the Gov.UK website. You can read useful information on involving a solicitor as little as possible to help keep costs low. Both websites tell you what documents you’ll need to start court proceedings and what documents you’ll need to present to your soon to be ex. Of course, there is certain information you may not understand and you’ll have to recognise when you’ll need to seek legal counsel, free or otherwise.
One last thing I will stress to you is that the advice on these websites are all free, which means you don’t have to fork out for any advice, debt or otherwise, until you get that solicitor. Stay away from those so-called debt management websites that tell you how to consolidate your debts. These types of organisations charge you a monthly fee which they say go to your debtors, but most of which goes to them and a small fraction towards your debt, which means you’ll be paying it off for years.
All this may seem daunting and just thinking about it all is enough to stick your head into the sand. But whether you need debt advice or a bit of legal support regarding your relationship, the free help and support you need is out there, you just need to know where to look. Hopefully you won’t need the advice in this article but if you do, I hope it’s of some use. Good luck.
Credits Text supplied by Regina Holland Image courtesy of Unsplash.com. Photographer Andre Spieker Additional photo by Karen Bryson