‘More people seeking help to feed families’

Newtownabbey Citizens Advice Bureau manager, Pat Hutchinson. INNT 51-244CON
Newtownabbey Citizens Advice Bureau manager, Pat Hutchinson. INNT 51-244CON

Newtownabbey Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has reported a worrying increase in payday loan complaints and a significant rise in the number of people seeking help from foodbanks.

Speaking to the Times this week, CAB District Manager Pat Hutchinson revealed that between April and August this year, staff based at the Dunanney Centre office have assisted new clients with debts totalling almost £4million.

And shockingly, some of those who’ve turned to the CAB’s Money Advice Service for help have been through so much stress and anxiety due to their financial problems that they’ve even tried to take their own lives.

“These debts range right across the board from mortgage and housing arrears to credit card and catalogue debts.

“Over the past year however we have noticed an escalation of debt amounts owed by clients to payday loan companies. The level of debt, hardship and stress caused particularly by these payday loan companies is nothing short of scandalous,” she said.

According to Mrs Hutchinson, CABs throughout the UK have received numerous complaints from clients regarding payday loans including the exorbitant interest rates charged, extra interest and default charges, lack of transparency, insufficient affordability assessment and unsolicited increases in the amounts that can be borrowed.

“Banks and other mainstream lenders have left a huge gap in the market by not offering a responsible alternative to short term loans. In a recent survey of clients regarding payday loans CAB said 76 per cent of their clients would have grounds to take their complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

“We are therefore actively encouraging people to complain about their payday loan. People shouldn’t let these predatory lenders get away with treating them unfairly.

“At CAB we can help clients with debt advice and help to lodge complaints. People are often reluctant to even admit they have used a payday lender. Nobody is here to judge you. We understand that times are hard but the important thing is to ask for help,” she continued.

The District Manager revealed that Newtownabbey CAB has also experienced an alarming rise in foodbank enquiries, with requests for referral for emergency food supplies having rocketed by 78 per cent in the past three months - a trend the Bureau expects to see continue.

“Unbearable pressures are being placed on households due to welfare upheavals, cuts to public spending, low wages and the high cost of living. Many people have no safety net when they run out of money.

“We are even seeing people in employment seeking emergency food supplies before they get paid. People are being forced to seek emergency help just to put food on the table for their families,” Mrs Hutchinson explained.

“These foodbanks are a godsend to many families. Recently we have referred 139 families to local foodbanks in Whiteabbey, Glengormley, Rathcoole and North Belfast for emergency help.”

People who need emergency help are being urged to contact the Bureau for assistance.

“At CAB we are a free confidential and non-judgmental service. We are here to help clients to break the vicious cycle of being in debt and to relieve the stress of households.

“There are a range of solutions available, so no matter what your debt problem is we will be able to help.

“No debt problems are unsolvable but the earlier you deal with them the easier they are to deal with,” Mrs Hutchinson added.