Where do you turn when you are loaded with debt? Fiona Finch discovers how Christians Against Poverty offers hope and guidance to those at the end of their tether - and to those who want to avoid future debt.
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fatter, but your wallet may not be getting any fuller. How best to cope?
It’s a question many people may be pondering as the festive season approaches.
For Preston man Kevin Coulton the way ahead is clear. His grandchildren will get presents and that will be it.
Kevin has been living in financially troubled times since losing his job following a fire at his workplace and a business failed.
But thanks to the work of Christians Against Poverty at Fulwood Free Methodist Church he is looking forward to the future and becoming debt free.
The church is one of the local centres across the country working as part of Christians Against Poverty(CAP), which aims to help anyone regardless of creed.
Linda McGuinness is manager of the CAP Debt Centre based at the church. The Lightfoot Lane church is also the venue for a CAP Money course for anyone, whether they are in debt or not, who wants to get more cash savvy.
It was the Debt Centre which has helped Kevin after money worries piled up. The chef, who trained at Preston’s W.R. Tuson College and Blackpool College, had a share in a fish and chip cafe business on Preston market and found himself with many debts when it failed. Then a fire at his workplace, the Grill and Grain pub at the Boatyard, Riley Green, meant he was suddenly without a salary.
He said: “Things can spiral very quickly. Last Christmas I had a very bad time. I got to the situation where everything was piling up on me and I didn’t know where to turn to. I was having some counselling in Preston and they pointed me to CAP.”
Kevin had first seen a notice about CAP’s work at the counselling centre Cedar House on Mount Street.
He said: “CAP steered me through the rotten patch. I was very, very down...Sometimes when you get into debt you don’t know who to turn to...I can manage my future. I’m nearly there now.
“I’m a lot more conscious of what I buy and what I spend now. Obviously I’ve not got much to spend at the moment! I’m looking to get back into work as soon as possible. I have a monthly budget.”
The father of three, who has been has been recovering from a hip operation, said: “I’d paid my taxes for 38 years.”
But looking back he believes he made wrong financial choices at an early age: “When I was growing up as a young boy my parents never talked to me about money or anything like that. I was clueless when I was 16 and by the time I was 19 I had £600 - £700 of debt. I bought a motorbike on finance, just being silly.”
Following the cafe business failure he got more into debt: “I kept getting bad advice. Somebody told me to get more debt. Then I got a loan off the bank to try to pay back and I paid quite a bit of it back, then I lost my job and couldn’t afford to keep the loan going.”
Linda is assisting Kevin in the process of applying for bankruptcy and explained: “Under the circumstances CAP is supporting him to go through the bankruptcy process, which he might not have had to go to had he not had that (bad) advice in the first place.”
She explained that the CAP view is that if debts are going to take more than five years to pay back such repayments are not tenable. Home visits are made by a Debt Coach to those calling CAP, and a realistic budget will be worked out. CAP will negotiate affordable payments with each creditor and attempt to stop unfair interest and charges wherever possible. In most cases a CAP plan is set up. Those in debt pay a weekly or monthly lump sum into the plan to cover debts and bills and CAP distributes it on their client’s behalf.
The CAP plan can be used until they become debt free. The financial expertise comes from CAP’s head office team.
Kevin pays into a CAP plan and has been able to tell people “CAP is dealing with my debts”.
CAP offers support to its clients until they are debt free – also linking them up with a befriender, who will, for example, go with them to set up a new bank account when appropriate or meet for a coffee to discuss progress.
The service is confidential. Kevin agreed to share details of his case in the hope it will help other people with similar problems realise help is available.
Physiotherapist Tracey McDonald from Broughton runs the CAP Money course at Fulwood. In three two-hour weekly evening sessions your spending habits and budget skills can get a makeover. There are no confessions, no details of your own finances to be shared – just a willingness to learn more about becoming more savvy with your cash. She said: “It’s just helping people to mange their life and reduce their stress and manage their money.”
Tracey is determined to bring fun to the course and says the chocolate tasting goes down particularly well when well-known brands are put up against Aldi’s chocolate...and Aldi always wins.
Does she practise what she preaches? Proof comes later in our conversation when she explains she buys second-hand phones and purchases only what she needs for calls/data as she goes along from Giffgaff.
“Revising everything” is how she describes the course – making sure you get best deals on fuel, spending wisely on groceries and meal planning: “It’s getting your money to work better for you and planning.”
The CAP Money course is for anyone, from young couples starting out in life to those who would just like to manage their finances better.
Kevin now hopes to go on the course and concludes: “We’re not all put on this planet to be millionaires. I’m going to be trying to manage all my finances a lot better.”
Linda , a retired teacher from Cottam, who taught economics and business says she is "very passionate" about teaching money skills , and indeed used to run a financial study course at the college she taught at.
She says she has several accounts which she transfers money to to pay regular bills such as car tax, realising it is cheaper to pay annually, but saving regulalry towards those bills. She also advises totting up weekly costs for food, entertainment, travel and petrol and drawing cash out to cover those costs - and keeping within the limit.
She points out that the method of writing down what has been spent and then totting up costs is an after the event response - which can leave you overspent.
She said: "I've seen debts from £3,000 to over £120,000. There is no typical client, single, married, those with children, those without children, those on benefits and those with high incomes."
Asked for top tips to cope with the cost of Christmas for Linda and Tracey it's back to budgeting - not just for presents, but for travel, meals, special food and seasonal extras. Linda suggests havinbg a Jacob's Join - with people bringing contributions to a meal, rather than one person or family bearing the cost of it all.
Tracey said: "Christmas wise have conversations about cutting down the number of presents. Think about Secret Santas, buying one, rather than many presents, home made gifts and give the gift of time. Keep within your means."
She points out the person receiving the present would not want the giver to go into debt.
Linda added: "I know at church people can sign a communal card rather than send everybody cards, Online (messages) can be free of charge as well."
She adds that with the debt advice: "The clue is in our title. We are Christians against poverty. While we will welcome people of any faith we are Christians delviering the service. We do offer to pray with people - they can refuse,. Some do, but some find it very comforting."
* More than 100 people with serious debt problems have been helped since the Debt Centre opened more than three years ago. The Centre can take on three new clients a month.
* For CAP debt help call 0800 328 0006 or see website capdebthelp.org which also has details of other CAP Debt Centre locations.
* The next CAP Money course at Fulwood Free Methodist Church starts in January.