Bedford Salvation Army’s debt advice service is calling for more volunteers to help manage its six week waiting list so their small but dedicated team can continue to offer free, impartial and confidential debt advice.
The service based at the church and community centre on Commercial Rd is funded for fifteen hours each week through donations from the public and organisations.
They currently help manage £400,000 worth of debt across 28 clients.
Debt, as Karen Lister, Head of Service tells us, can happen to anyone following changes in circumstance including job loss, illness, bereavement, and relationship breakdown: “We see a variety of people come into our service.
“Nearly half of our clients are in work but simply can’t keep up with the cost of living and therefore struggle to meet essential costs such as rent or council tax.
“Debt can affect a person’s ability to make choices, impact their relationships, as well as their physical and mental wellbeing.”
Unfortunately mounting debt is on the rise. A recent survey found that one in three people in the East of England are currently living with debt, whilst one in four admit to feeling increasingly worried about their finances.
Karen and her team are desperate to ensure this is not the case: “No one should feel like they have to struggle alone or turn to further credit”, she added.
One of the people they help locally, who did not want to be named, found out about the service when she contacted the Salvation Army about something else.
Three years ago, her partner used her details to get credit online and got her into more than £20,000 of debt.
She says: “He knew all my details so he would get credit cards, loans, a car on finance, you name it – it just spiralled out of control.”
Living in council housing with her two children, aged two and eight she ended up with three months’ worth of rent arrears and eviction notices.
The only income she had during the time was child benefit and a disability living allowance.
She says: “I ended up having to go to food banks to feed my children.”
Thankfully, her relationship with her partner ended and she pushed herself to speak to a friend who then recommended she get in touch with The Salvation Army.
After an initial financial assessment and helping her sort her priority debts, the team at Bedford Salvation Army spoke to creditors and supported her to arrange repayment plans.
After receiving help, she says she remembers thinking to herself: “I can breathe. Someone is listening to me. I’m going to get help now.”
A year on and she is more hopeful about the future: “I’m getting there. There’s no overnight fix but I’m no longer bombarded with red letters so that’s helped.
“If I get a letter through the door and I am panicking, I know Karen is at the end of the phone. She’s always there to help. That’s so reassuring.”
Karen says: “We want to help more people like this. No one should feel like they have to struggle alone or turn to further credit.”
For more information about volunteering with the debt advice service, please contact Karen on 01234 217747.