Never more needed... as we all face this pandemic the number of people in debt is rising. Imagine the daily torrent of phone calls, texts, threatening letters, and debt collectors at the door. This is a very real experience for many people we all know. Some of your friends may well be experiencing this, may never tell you because they are too ashamed.
Cambridge Money Advice (MAC) provides hope to people living with this daily horror through free, confidential debt advice. Our trained volunteer advisers work with someone to understand their situation, deal with creditors, and put a sustainable plan in place leading to a brighter future.
Some of the people we are helping :
We met with Tony just before lockdown. His health had deteriorated and so he could no longer work, his debts were growing, and interest and charges were wiping him out. Our advisers took time to understand his situation, and then with all the facts in place we suggested a special type of insolvency which clears the debts of those who will never be able to pay them off (a Debt Relief Order). We worked with him to gather the information required and submit the paperwork. He could never have paid the debts off, but now he is able to start life afresh and face the future free from the fear his debts were causing.
Lou came to us with mounting debts because of a previous gambling habit. We were able to take the time to find out about each of the debts, and work out a payment plan which would clear the debts in just over a year. We gave Lou an opportunity to sort things out and start afresh; without our intervention the enormous interest charges on the payday loan style debts would have prevented Lou from ever getting on top of the situation. We step between our clients and their creditors and stop further interest and charges mounting up, enabling people them to take control of their lives.
Mo has a lot going on in his life, and we have been there with him through the ups and downs: working with his creditors when there was not enough money to pay them, and sharing his joys when things went well. When everything falls apart, jobs are lost or relationships break down finances almost always suffer, we are often the only people that our clients have told about their financial issues. Debt still has a huge amount of stigma surrounding it. We are privileged to have our clients' trust and the opportunity to help.
Our clients come to their first meeting fearful, exhausted and unable to believe that anyone can help them. Perhaps they have been sent by a friend or a support worker, or have found us online. They doubt very much we can do anything, but at the same time are clinging to the desperate chance we might be able to. To us, each of our clients is an individual with their own specific story. We are able to give them the time and compassion they need to unpack what has happened, to tell us how things have fallen apart and how they just don't know what to do any more. We give them hope that something can change, and then we work with them to make it happen.
Cambridge is a city divided: there is much wealth but also a huge amount of poverty. We helped one client last year who told us she had set out candles before coming to the meeting because it would be dark when she got back and she could not afford the electric at the moment because her rent was due. With her permission we called her rental company, and reduced her rent payment that week so she could pay for electricity. This year we had a gentleman arrive in the office in January whose Universal Credit payment had been delayed so he hadn't eaten for two days: people were living on the edge before the horror of the pandemic even set in.
Here are two recent quotes from our clients (used with their permission).
'I was desperately in debt, losing hope as well as sleep, before I finally bit the bullet and contacted the Cambridge Money Advice Centre. From the outset, I found the staff at MAC to be friendly, supportive, competent and – most important of all - non-judgmental. After working out exactly how much I owed and to whom, they contacted each of my creditors in turn and reasoned with them, reducing my monthly repayments to as little as one pound a month. In a matter of weeks, all the pestering phone calls and final demands ceased, literally making it possible for me to sleep at night. Now, if a creditor attempts to contact me directly, I simply refer them to MAC, knowing, quite simply, that MAC has my back. I cannot recommend this wonderful charity highly enough.’
'I'm so grateful for all your help and support that you have given me over the past few months. Without your help I would be in a seriously bad place now I don't even want to imagine how bad things could have got. You have given me a new sense of optimism about everything and I can't thank you enough. '
The stories we have told are true but we have changed our clients names to protect their identities. In this type of work confidentiality is critical.
How we do it :
Until the March 2020 lockdown we saw all our clients in the office, which is located in one of Cambridge's more deprived areas (Abbey). Now we are using telephone, email and Zoom to work with our clients and keep our team together. Working from kitchen tables, studies and bedrooms we have found new ways to meet the need. We've all had a steep learning curve in technology this year!
The model we use is to always have two advisers present, this enables us to both manage the paperwork and technology whilst really engaging with our clients and allows there to be more opportunities to discuss and consider options with our clients. We collect information about the debts, income and expenditure then we provide advice on what options are available and then walk our clients through this. We pride ourselves that we work with our clients at their pace and for as long as it takes for them to be in a stable situation.
Who are we:
Alongside our wonderful team of eight volunteer advisers we have a small trustee board and other volunteers who are helping us meet our goals. We also employ a Centre Manager part time, who keeps the clients informed, organises all the meetings and keeps the ever increasing paperwork involved in such a regulated process under control.
All of our advisers are fully trained, as required by the FCA and supported by the umbrella organisation Community Money Advice https://www.communitymoneyadvice.com/ who oversee around 150 centres in the UK, a number which is growing especially as the need increases. It takes around two years for an adviser to obtain sufficient training and practical experience to lead a meeting. At present we are also training new advisers and seeking to find more as we prepare for the inevitable increase in need that the pandemic is producing.
What your gift will do :
In giving to this project you are providing a person and their family with a chance to escape the overwhelming hold of debt, giving them a chance to rebuild and find peace where life has seemed impossible. As we face the future, we know we will need more advisers and more resources to be able to meet this every increasing need. Please give what you can to enable us to give them a chance, and change the course of a life. £100 would allow us to begin training a new adviser, £30 toward arranging an insolvency for a client £10 arranging that all important first meeting. Remember all our advice is all given free.
Do you have questions?
Please do get in touch via this page or directly using our email address email@example.com We will do our best to answer any questions and would love to hear from you if you would like to volunteer or if you need our help.