When we first met Julie*, she was caught in a perfect storm of rent arrears, household debt and difficulty claiming benefits. She shared her story with us and explained how she has turned her life around.
Julie had not let a learning disability and long-term health challenges prevent her from working and keeping on top of her bills. But when a few direct debits to her housing association failed to process correctly, requests for payment began to arrive and Julie realised that she was facing unmanageable debts.
Julie was eventually forced to go to court, where she was told how much of the debt – which by now stood at £3,000 – she would have to pay, and when.
The repayments put her budget under huge pressure, and she struggled to keep up with council tax and water bills while also putting food on the table.
Says Julie, ‘I couldn’t pay everyone at the time – [it] would leave me skint.’ She would ‘try to pay one debt, then forget to pay another debt’.
At the same time, Julie was facing flare-ups in her long-term health conditions, including arthritis, and complications stemming from a car accident in childhood. No longer in work, navigating the benefits system was also proving difficult.
Debt: a mental and physical health issue
The stress of Julie’s situation soon began to take its toll on her wellbeing. Her weight plummeted, and she no longer had the money or the inclination to buy new clothes or have her hair done.
‘I let myself go right down to nothing,’ she says. ‘Same shoes every day, clothes didn’t fit me properly. People would say, "you don’t look right."’
Things eventually got so bad that she chose to stay home in the daytime, only venturing out in the small hours of the morning so that no-one would see her. On the occasions when she did have to talk to someone, she would be increasingly withdrawn.
‘At the time, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I wanted to keep it all to myself,’ she says. ‘They used to ask me questions – I’d say, "yeah, that’s alright, that’s alright."’
Who can you turn to in a crisis?
It even proved difficult for Julie to open up to her family. When she was worried about eviction, she knew that her family would help but, she says, she ‘didn’t want to bother my family in that situation – it’s embarrassing.’
Like many people facing financial difficulty, Julie sought support from a traditional advice provider – but found that they didn’t have the time or the understanding that she badly needed. ‘They only see you for a few minutes and you’re out the door,’ she explains.
After her brief session, she was told that the agency would contact her again. A few months then passed with no contact, and Julie called only to be told that there was in fact nothing they could do to help.
Speaking out and being heard
It was in fact Julie’s housing association that put her in touch with Jerry, Director at Money A+E. He along with colleagues contacted creditors on Julie’s behalf, and helped with organising forms and documentation.
They also helped her to go back to court – only this time to be awarded back payment of the benefits she had been owed, but had not received.
Now, Julie is up-to-date with her debts, and she tells us, ‘I’ve got confidence…I can speak out more than what I used to do.’ She gets her hair done regularly and has returned to a healthy weight.
She is especially exciting to be visiting family abroad soon, a trip she has made possible by regularly putting money aside for special occasions.
So what would be her advice for someone facing similar challenges to her own?
‘If anyone’s in my sort of position – if they can’t afford to pay their rent or council tax – there’re people out there that will help you out. I didn’t know it at the time, I thought "no-one’s gonna help me."’
‘Even though you feel like you don’t want to do it [seek help], you feel better in yourself.’
*Name has been changed