Volunteers needed at local debt advice service as surge in demand is expected

Pound coins and money

A local debt advice charity is urgently looking for volunteers to help them manage the expected rise in demand.

Money Advice at St Andrews (MASA) offers help and support to anyone struggling to cope with their finances or debt and offers full training to their volunteers.

As the impact of the coronavirus pandemic intensifies, Community Money Advice (CMA) expects requests for debt advice to rise by 60% in 2021.

According to the Bank of England, unsecured consumer debt stood at £207 billion at the beginning of June this year and there were 3.2 million new Universal Credit claims during lock down.

Debt can happen to anyone following a change in circumstances caused by job loss, relationship breakdown, illness or bereavement.

Gill Eden, MASA administrator said, “We see a variety of clients, some in work but struggling to make ends meet on low incomes and some struggling on benefit to meet their rent or council tax.”

MASA have shared the story of Dilys (not her real name), to show the impact their service can make.

“I can’t tell you where I come from because my husband might find out and track me down.

“We had to leave in a hurry, that’s my children and me, with just a few clothes and hardly any of their toys.

“Debbie is seven and at school. She’s doing all right; still has the odd bad dream, but she hardly ever wets the bed now. Michael’s four and he’s been assessed as having special needs. He’s hard work, he screams and hits out in frustration.

“There’s no way I can work, with Michael the way he is. Their dad is supposed to pay through the Child Support Agency, but he never has done.

“When I got here, I had emergency housing, and tried to get benefits, but there was a long delay. Thank God for the Foodbank.

“When they eventually found us somewhere to live, the Family Centre put me in touch with charities that could get us furniture. Things went from bad to worse and I got into debt.

“One Support brought me to Money Advice at St Andrew’s. I came with a great big bag of bills, and it took ages, going through everything.

“I felt so ashamed when I saw how much I owed – and it wasn’t as if I was spending money on things we didn’t need.

“The people here didn’t make me feel ashamed. The one who helped me told me that this could be sorted out. I didn’t believe her at first, I thought I’d be going to prison and the children would be taken into care, but it turns out she was right and with her help, the debt was managed.

“So it’s like a fresh start. We looked at how I needed to budget: what has to be paid for first, so that I don’t get into debt again. It’s still tight, but I’m doing it: I’m in control, I know exactly what I have to spend each month.

“I’ve been clear of debt for a year now, and – you know what? I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt in my life. There are still problems, but I can make a life for my children. We’re getting there”.

It is estimated that one in three people in the East of England is currently living with debt and one in four admit to feeling worried about their finances.

This is expected to be exacerbated by the longer terms effect of Covid 19.

“The CMA expects requests for debt advice to rise by 60% in 2021,” said Gill.

“We want to be able to help clients like Dilys and others like her but to do that we need more volunteers.

“All our debt advisers are fully trained and supported, and we are also looking to increase our capacity with a new role of Client Support Worker which is more of an administrative role.”

For more information about volunteering, please contact Carol Madden, Chair of MASA by email at carolmadden1950@gmail.com

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