Helping hand

2 April 2019 | North West England

Donna Martin and Paul Bartley from the Big Help Project2

Charity helps those with spiralling debt.

The Big Help Project is a charity that works within the local community of Knowsley with families facing mounting debt problems.

From losing your job or suffering a bereavement or the washing machine breaking down, unexpected bills can soon pile up. For many, the situation can easily spiral out of control and they find creditors are knocking on the door.

The Big Help Project looks to intervene in a positive way. They started out as the Knowsley Food Bank, but the team soon realised those coming to them in crisis had built up large debts that needed addressing if they were ever to get back on track.

In 2012 they opened Jubilee Debt Advice service to offer free, confidential, professional debt-management advice and support from a team of qualified debt advisors. They also act as advocates for their clients, claiming back benefits which should have been paid, getting debts written off and giving information on bankruptcy.

“Debt can quickly become unmanageable,” explains Donna Martin, from the project. “You take out a payday loan to pay off a credit card, and then end up taking another loan to pay off that debt. Soon you can find yourself with debts piling up.

“First we help clients with their immediate needs but then we also look at the bigger picture. Ultimately we want to help our clients empower themselves and take control of their own situation. But initially we can help negotiate on their behalf to come up with a more realistic and manageable payment plan. If all they can pay is a pound a month, so be it.

“When you get into that kind of debt, and the letters that follow, it can become intimidating and very scary. Then fear clouds logic.

“Here we can offer a calm and reassuring space where we have the tools and specialist knowledge to help. We don’t make false promises but we will treat you with respect and do the very best we can. And we do seem to get results.”

She added: “In the past people would have money saved for a rainy day. Those days are gone.”

Since 2011, Jubilee Debt Advice has handled more than £5 million worth of debt for more than 500 clients. In the last year alone, they have claimed back £170,000 of welfare benefits that their clients were entitled to. Throughout the process, clients have support from their caseworker, and the rest of the team with all Jubilee debt advisors working towards a Community Money Advice Debt Management Qualification.

Paul Bartley works as a debt advisor at the charity. “We often receive calls from clients who have been attended by bailiffs. We can offer our support and arrange an urgent appointment, and we offer a number of debt solutions to clients including a debt management plan, debt relief order, referral for individual voluntary arrangement and bankruptcy.”

He added: “I have managed to get debt written off for some clients with mental health problems. That feels good. I had another client who lost his job, and had to come here for food vouchers. We helped him sort out his £5k worth of debt and then got him together with our employability scheme. He got a job, then his wife got a job. Then one day he turned up with a supermarket trolley full of food that he donated to us. That just made my day.”

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