Northampton charity: "Ask for help before debt problems get too much."

Chris Byrne, debt manager at the Community Law Service, says too many people bury their heads in the sand in response to debt problems.

Chris Byrne, debt manager at the Community Law Service, says too many people bury their heads in the sand in response to debt problems.

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A sharp rise in household debt over 2016 has prompted a Northampton charity to ask that people seek advice on their bills sooner rather than later.

Unsecured debt in the UK reached a new high last year that was well above the peak that was seen before the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new analysis by the Trading Union Congress.

In addition, a recent study by the Money Advice Trust shows 5.5 million Britons are expected to fall behind with their finances this New Year.

Now the Community Law Service, a charity in Northampton, wants people to come to them help before their money problems get on top of them.

Chris Byrne, debt manager for Community Law Service:

"January is always a tough time of year. When Christmas comes around, people tend to leave everything until the new year, but then the bills all arrive at once. We've seen a rise in people struggling to manage their money and this has led to trouble with 'priority debts,' such as council tax, rent and water bills."

Community Law Service last year handled over £26m of debt on behalf of clients across the county, and advised 2,405 people on their debt.

They also represented 962 repossession and eviction cases in court, with a 98% success rate in preventing repossession of homes.

They offer specialist and impartial debt advice at appointment slots at their advice centre on Hazelwood Road and drop-in sessions at the Guildhall, Northampton.

People facing financial difficulty are able to speak to specialist advisors throughout the week to access immediate advice.

Chris said: “You are not alone but the problem will not go away by itself. The earlier you seek advice, the easier the problem will be to solve.

"We are able to advise on a wide range of options to resolve debts and provide a comprehensive casework service including negotiation with creditors, administration of debt relief orders and support with bankruptcy petitions. We also help people to maximise their income through take-up of welfare benefit entitlements and have housing advisors who can represent people at court with housing repossession or eviction hearings.”

"The universal credit scheme has had a lot to do with it too. Whereas the housing benefits system paid landlords and other service providers directly, the universal credit system gives the money straight to the claimant. This was intended to teach people budgeting skills and how to handle money. But what we've seen is that it can be such a huge change from the housing benefits system that many people mismanage the money they're given. It snowballs from there. They will miss a rent payment or a water bill, then they will be sent rent arrears or council tax arrears, and then they are in even more debt.

"The best advice I can give is to get advice as soon as you can. So many people get into debt and then bury their heads in the sand and hope their bills will go away. They leave it until the court enforcement officer is knocking on their door. The Community Law Service can help at any step but the quicker you get in touch the quicker we can help manage your debt problems."

CLS can be contacted on 01604 621038 or by email: enquiries@communitylawservice.org.

For details of their opening times and duty sessions, visit www.communitylawservice.org.uk