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'Being in debt has been hard': Zoe*'s Story

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

'When I came to Money A+E, I was despondent. I really needed some reassurance on how to manage the debts that I was in, and how to find a way out. I was in over £5,000 of debt on my rent, and over £6,000 on my council tax.

I was trying my hardest. I’d tried a few plans that I had constructed myself, but I wasn't really feeling that what I’d done was working.

It was at that time that my Housing Officer put me forward to get some support from Tanzila [Money Educator] at Money A+E.

'What I was doing was right - even if I couldn't see it.'

Tanzila and I spoke on the phone, and she made me feel like what I was doing was right, even if it didn’t feel like it or I couldn't see it.

She was just really nice. Hearing her voice, I thought, ‘Ok, I think I can listen to what she has to tell me and take it on board.’

I had already been to Citizens Advice and got ‘Breathing Space’. I had 30 days where there was a freeze on all my debts, so nobody could approach me about them. It really helped, because it gave me time to sort things out and get in contact with all my providers.

And I had created a spreadsheet, done by pen and paper, so that I could see when [the debts] would come to an end. Tanzila said that that was exactly what I needed to do, and so I felt like maybe I was doing something right.

I told her everything I had to pay out and she helped me to prioritize. She said it’s not that nothing else is important, but for example your rent and your council tax needs to be prioritized over everything else.

I can see just a little bit of light shining through the tunnel. I haven’t got there yet, but it’s about prioritizing and having things ‘concrete’ in front of me. And I make sure that I keep up with my payments and try not to miss anything.

Stock image

'I did conquer the debt.'

Being in debt has been hard. I was originally in rent arrears of more than £5,000, and they did take me to court over it. The judge said: you have to pay your normal rent, and at the beginning of every month you pay £100 towards the arrears. So that’s what I was doing.

Then I got a letter through the door, threatening to take me to court again. I was angry, but speaking to Tanzila, she said, ‘Look, if it means that you have to reduce this and reduce that, make sure that you keep up with the payments.’

So I upped them to £250 per month. It was hard but I thought, ‘I’m not losing my house, I’ve got children.’

It took away money that I would use for shopping. I couldn’t give my children money for school. I used to be able to save and put savings into my children’s accounts, but I just can’t, there’s no way that I can do that at the moment.

But I did conquer the debt. Now I’m actually in credit on my rent!

'I've learnt the hard way.'

Now I'm on top of the rent I find that at least I’ve got an extra £50 per week to put elsewhere.

But I’ve still got other debts. I was over £6,000 in debt on my council tax; I haven’t conquered that yet but I have paid off half – £3,000.

I’ve got payment plans with my water and my electricity provider. My electricity took me to court too and I have a CCJ against me because of that. They wanted me to pay £50 more than what I set up in the first place – but they didn't call me to talk about revising it. It’s things like that that kind of set you back.

What I have realized is that, once I get myself out of this situation, I will never ever go back there. I used to think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a roof over my head anyway, so maybe I will do this, or buy this.’ But I’ve learnt the hard way about prioritizing. And by prioritizing I mean: before you can go out and party and buy your shoes and buy your clothes – it's all about getting the essentials in first, and that’s paying your bills!

Accessible, uplifting money support

Tanzila was not judgemental, she would always ask me if I agreed with what she was saying. She just had this aura about her where I thought, ‘You know what Tanzila, even if I don’t want to do it or I’m being a bit stubborn, I’m going to do it because I’m speaking to you!’

I’ve got a friend who is also a Notting Hill Genesis tenant and I was telling her to call Tanzila. I said, ‘She’s really good, she’ll uplift you, she’ll make you see sense!’

It actually took me a long time to approach Money A+E. My Housing Officer had already told me about them about 5 months ago and I thought, ‘Yes, I will, I will’ – but I just didn’t. I didn’t have the time, because I’m at work and my breaks aren’t long enough to talk. My job is as support staff in a school, and I work right to the end of the day.

But this time I called up, and Tanzila said that she would work out of hours just to give me that support. I was really grateful!

'I just think back on what I was told from Money A+E.'

Tanzila talked about money goals, even though that doesn’t exist for me right now, because as soon as I have money, everything just goes out to trying to get back on top of things.

But she helped me to prepare for the future. She gave me info on ways of saving, and said that regardless of what you have to pay out, always set aside something and try to build on it.

I’m going to carry on, and every time I feel like I’m sinking into a hole, I just think back on what I was told from Money A+E. I took screenshots of Tanzila’s slides as she was talking to me, so every time I feel like I'm going to slip back, I just pull out my phone and go through them. It’s been so reassuring.

Name: Zoe*

Location: London

Occupation: School support staff

Support included:

Prioritizing bills

Debt management


Saving and setting money goals

Information on other sources of support: Debtline, Money A+E Advice service

Figures are correct at time of interview and may be approximate.

All images used are stock photos.

*Name has been changed


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