Post-Christmas debt help sought on 'Blue Monday'

By Colette Hume
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Charities helping people in debt have said they are bracing themselves for their busiest year as people begin receiving their post-Christmas credit card and store card bills.

Blue Monday, as it is known to debt advisors, traditionally sees a rise in the number of people asking for help.

Community Money Advice runs a network across Wales which managed £3m of debt in 2017.

Eight volunteer advisors help at the Antioch Church, Colwyn Bay.

"It's a big step for people to come through the doors," Alan Edwards, who leads the group, said.

"A lot of people come to us and say 'I'm sorry, I can't cope, I need help'."

Mr Edwards said Christmas created huge pressure on people to spend money they often do not have.

Like other debt advisors, he said clients often came to the advice centre with plastic bags filled with unopened bills.

"Our message is we will walk through this with you," he added.

"We have clients crying in front of us and it's lovely to see that change in body language when they realise they're no longer alone."

He and the other debt advice charities urge people who think they may be getting into financial trouble not to ignore the problems.

"It will only get far, far worse," Mr Edwards said.

The charity has four branches in mid and north Wales and last year, for the first time, it managed more than £3m of consumer debt with 287 families helped.

Image caption,
Lucy Farrar and her family have paid off most of their debts

Former teacher Lucy Farrar from Colwyn Bay, Conwy county, who has two daughters with husband Arthur, is one of those.

The couple found themselves in difficulty when their newsagents' business failed because a new discount off-licence opened next door just six months after they began trading.

She said being in debt left her feeling "humiliated", adding: "It's just scary. You just don't know where to turn. you're just worrying the whole time."

With Mr Edwards' help, they have now paid off most of their debts, with Mrs Farrar a driver on the Great Orme tram line and her husband working nightshifts in a care home.

She added: "There's no shame in asking for help. Walking through the doors here, it's just taken all the weight off my shoulders.

"A problem shared is a problem halved."

Image source, Getty Images

At the Citizen's Advice Bureau in Bargoed, Caerphilly county, development manager Jan Channing is bracing herself for the calls and requests for face-to face appointments with the team of debt advisors.

"People want the best for their children and their families [at Christmas] and very often they will go into debt to pay for food, to pay for presents and again what we would say to people is to think twice about doing that.

"I think it's all very well, you do want the best at Christmas, you do want to get lots and lots of presents and things for your family but if you can't afford it you are stocking up trouble later on."

In 2017, Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) across Wales helped 28,500 people with debt problems, of which 11,000 cards and loans debts.

What to do if you think you are in debt:

  • Do not ignore the bills
  • Go to your local CAB or debt charity
  • Take bills and any other correspondence with you
  • Credit and store card companies may be willing for you to pay back the debt using a payment plan drawn up by debt advisors
  • Start thinking about making yourself financially ready for Christmas 2018 now
  • Saving even a small amount each week in a bank account or credit union can make a big difference