Debt Advice Self Help Pack

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1 Central Bedfordshire Council Debt Advice Self Help Pack Do you find there is not enough money to pay your bills each week/month? Has your credit become debt? Are your outgoings more than your income? If any of the above applies, this Debt/Money Advice Self Help Pack should help you to reassess your budget and gain control of your money. This means knowing which are your PRIORITY DEBTS (essential outgoings) as opposed to NON-PRIORITY DEBTS (general creditors). Once you have worked out how much money you have coming in and going out, you re in a better position already. It may be that you have a reasonable monthly/weekly sum left from your household income that you can offer your creditors to start repaying your debts. Unfortunately this is rare and in most cases you need to plan a strategy to maximise your income and minimise your expenditure. Don t feel panicked or distressed about being in this situation, most people in debt are in this position. Whatever happens, do not ignore the problem. Talk to the people that you owe money to. They may be able to help you manage your repayments. In this pack you will find a guide to help you to prepare a personal budget plan, draft letters to send to creditors, and a list of agencies that will be able to give you advice and guidance. You can also contact your Estate Officer or a Tenant Liaison Officer on They will be able to give you further assistance.

2 Money/Debt Advice Having problems making ends meet? Most people borrow money from time to time. However, the less income you have the more difficult it is to repay money borrowed. This juggling of debts leads to the robbing Peter to pay Paul situation. You will find yourself paying the most immediate debt without thinking about the consequences of not paying other more important debts. There are all sorts of reasons why people get behind with their bills. Loss of earnings, family crisis, changes in benefits, increases in the price of food, fuel and other essentials. Priority and non-priority debts Rent is classed as a priority debt, and failure to pay your rent will result in losing your home. Banks, credit card companies, and other lenders can obtain County Court Judgments against you. Your landlord can do this and also take your home! The Council also has power to imprison people who do not pay their Council Tax, as this is also considered a priority debt. Credit cards, hire purchase agreements, bank loans and catalogue debts are considered non-priority debts. Before you start DO......work out who you owe money to i.e. your creditors....complete a personal budget to examine income and expenditure. Adjusting your expenditure could make a big difference....contact creditors immediately when you have a problem, either in person or by phone/ letter. It may prevent legal action and they may accept smaller, regular payments....keep copies of all correspondence and make a note of names, dates, call times and content....check to see if you are covered under any insurance scheme for default on payments (this applies usually for redundancy and sickness.)...take any forms you receive from the Court that you don t understand to the Court office, and ask then for an explanation or get further advice....discuss the problems with your spouse or partner. DON T......panic!...ignore the problem it won t go away....borrow money to pay off existing debts it usually makes things worse....ignore creditors letters or phone calls....give up there is nearly always a solution....hand back the key of either your house or car without getting advice....sign any papers that bailiffs may post through the door without seeking advice....succumb to any threats seek advice at every stage.

3 Getting Started Completing the Personal Budget Planner Start by listing all your sources of income, for example, your pay, benefits and tax credits. Money coming in: Your payslip Benefits and tax credits check with the tax office that you are on the right tax code find out what you may be eligible for by contacting the Benefit Enquiry Line or Directgov website (see contact list) Other Income you may have money coming in from other sources, for example, contributions from other family members, maintenance/child support payments Put these figures into the income section of the inserted budget sheet (1) Money going out: Now you know what money is coming in, the next step is to find out how much is going out and plan your budget. Put all your outgoings/expenses into the inserted budget sheet (2) When completing this section you need to consider what are Priority Debts. The criteria for deciding what debts have priority are generally based on the type of sanction the creditor can legally use. They are called priority debts, because when it comes to calculating repayments and negotiating with creditors, they take priority over other debts. Examples would include: Being disconnected Losing your home Losing essential goods or services Being imprisoned

4 What should you do if you find you are in debt/ unable to pay your rent? DON T PANIC! DON T ignore the problem it won t go away DON T borrow money to pay off the debt it nearly always makes things worse DO contact the Housing Estates Team immediately on who will be able to offer you help and advice. Arrangements can be made for your Estate s Officer or a Tenant Liaison Officer to carry out a home visit to discuss your arrears, assist with any benefit claims and provide basic Debt Counselling advice. Types of priority debts Debt Rent arrears Council Tax County Court Judgments Magistrates Court Fine Inland Revenue V.A.T Gas Electricity Maintenance Outcome Repossession/eviction Bailiff/imprisonment/attachment of earnings Bailiffs Imprisonment Bailiffs/imprisonment Bailiffs/imprisonment Disconnection Disconnection Imprisonment Don t worry if you cannot account for every penny. The important thing is to know roughly where you stand. It is also useful to keep a weekly spending diary. Don t forget occasional items such as birthdays, Christmas, school trips and holidays. Also, items that you may only pay once a year, for example car tax and insurance. Divide these by 12 to obtain a monthly average. Completing this stage and creating your Financial Statement will reveal both the causes of your financial problems and possible solutions.

5 Benefits on-line What am I entitled to and where can I find out? Where can I find the Central Bedfordshire Council s Benefit Calculator (for Housing and Council Tax Benefit) assist/bencalc.aspx What will I need before I continue? Details of earnings for all in your home Details of benefits/allowances/credits already claimed Child care costs (if relevant) What benefits am I entitled to? Turn 2 Us has a benefit checker to see what you may be entitled to. I want to find out how much I might receive in tax credits. directgov have a full website with all benefits information. The above web address will take you straight to the Tax Credits Calculator. Before you start, it's a good idea to have the following information to hand: details of your income and, if you have one, your partner's income i.e. your P60(s) for the previous April would be ideal details of any benefits you are claiming, or have just stopped claiming your usual working hours the average amount you spend each week on childcare REMEMBER GET IN TOUCH, NOT IN DEBT

6 Day-to-day budgeting Whatever your situation, it is sensible to make the most of your day-to-day money. Plan your budget It is always a good idea to keep track of your money especially if you are struggling to make ends meet. If you haven't done so already, you should take the time to work out where all your money comes from and where it goes too. Try to make time to review your budget regularly. And remember to look at it again if your circumstances change or your debts start building up. And don't just think about the present thinking early about how your needs might change in the future can help to prevent problems occurring later on. Sort out your debts If you are having problems with debts, it's better to sort things out sooner rather than later or your situation could easily get worse. How big is the problem? Make a list of all your debts remember to include any borrowing, such as your mortgage and any credit or store cards, and other debts, such as any unpaid bills for example. Check what could happen if you don t repay your debts some will be a higher priority than others because the consequences of not paying them are so severe. For example, if you don t keep up payments on your mortgage there is a real risk that you could lose your home; if you don t pay court fines, you could be sent to prison. Then you can start to think about which debts are the top priority for repayment and how much you can afford to pay off each week or month. Contact all the people you owe money to as soon as possible and don t ignore their letters or phone calls. Explain the problem and how you intend to pay. Offer to pay off the debt at an amount you can afford, even if it's only a small amount per week or month. And think carefully before you borrow any money to repay your debts. Boost your income Make sure you claim any benefits or tax credits that you are entitled to. You can find out how to do this by looking at the Direct.gov website. And make sure you aren t paying any more tax than you need to on your savings for example. You can also check this by looking at the Direct.gov website. You could consider switching any savings or investments to get a better return but remember to check whether you will pay a penalty for switching. Information comparing the different products on offer is widely available both on the web and elsewhere.

7 Reduce your spending If you need to cut back on your spending, look for areas where you are confident you can really make savings. Set yourself targets and stick to them, but remember to be realistic. You could consider switching to a cheaper supplier for basic services, such as gas and electricity, or other major items of expenditure. You might be able to save money by reviewing any loans or other borrowing. You could think about switching to a cheaper credit card. For more information go the money made clear website: Useful contacts National Debtline FREEPHONE: Monday to Friday 9am-9pm Saturday 9:30am-1pm 24 hour voic . Leave a message to request an information pack or factsheet. Tricorn House Hagley Road Edgbaston Birmingham B16 8TP Advice / / Benefits advice Find out how much you can claim

8 Jargon Buster Below are words and phrases commonly used by Debt Collectors County Court A Civil Court which may be used to enforce the collection of debt. Debts up to 5000 are dealt with by the Small Claims section of the County Court. Bailiff Someone who is authorised to collect a debt from you on behalf of your creditors. There are three types of Bailiff who work for the Court Service: the County Court Bailiff, the Certified Bailiff, who has provided references to the County Court, and the Private Bailiff. Warrant This is the official written permission given to the Bailiff allowing him to carry out his/her duties to collect a debt. It is given by the court. Priority debt The consequences of not paying a priority debt are serious. These debts include rent arrears, fuel arrears, council tax arrears and outstanding court fines. Failure to pay these debts could result in you being evicted from your home, or in some cases you could be imprisoned. Non-priority debt These include credit card, hire purchase, loans and overdrafts. A collection of these cannot be enforced by imprisonment., but have other consequences. County Court Judgment (CCJ) If your creditors take action in the County Court, they may request that a County Court Judgment be made against you. This means that the County Court has ordered you to pay an amount of money this will normally be the debt plus costs. Details of the CCJ are entered on to a register which is used by credit companies, banks and building societies when you apply for credit. A CCJ will affect your credit rating. Credit Reference Agency A company that stores computerised records of people s use of credit. When you apply for credit, for example a store card, checks will be made with the agency about your credit history. Contact us... by telephone: by on the web: Write to Central Bedfordshire Council, Watling House, High Street North, Dunstable, Bedfordshire LU6 1LF

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