Perth Citizens' Advice Bureau
This client has split up with her long-term partner. I believe there was also some domestic violence. She became a single person in the household and, soon after, she found out that her former partner hadn’t paid Council Tax, although he was taking money [from her] for it.
She also had a couple of personal loans and some store cards, and she had been overpaid by Tax Credits because she hadn’t updated her circumstances with them. Her total debt was around £8,000 or £9,000.
Because she couldn’t pay her debts she was contacted by Stirling Park [sheriff’s officers who do collections for council tax amongst other things]. She set up a payment plan of £150 a month, but she only had an income of £500 or £600 a month as she works part-time. She couldn’t sustain such a high payment and she considered entering into a trust deed, which is a form of insolvency.
When the client arrived at our office I explained what her options were and we worked through her situation. My colleague Alastair suggested that she could consider declaring bankruptcy, but she felt responsible for it and she didn’t want to go for that.
Instead, I have helped her to set up a much lower payment plan with Stirling Park – about £15 a month, which is much more manageable. And we have put her personal loan on hold for six months. Then we were about to get things sorted with the tax credit overpayment but, unfortunately, she had a heart attack. So, of course, she lost her income. Since then I have helped her to claim Universal Credit, which can be difficult for some people.
We further reduced the payments towards Stirling Park and reduced the tax credit repayment to a far smaller amount. Her son has moved in with her, so I have helped her to update her changes in circumstances.
My client is now accessing the support and slowly recovering from heart surgery. She has told me that our help has been a great support. She thought that her only solution was to make high payments each month and that she couldn’t change the amounts.
She feels that, because we’re acting on her behalf, she’s being heard. Often people feel that they can’t get anywhere with an organisation but, when we phone them, we are taken seriously because we know what is and isn’t affordable. We can also check whether the client is actually liable for the debt, because mistakes can be made in calculations, especially in benefit overpayments and council tax entitlements.
“I would like to express my gratitude to Citizens’ Advice Bureau Perth and pay tribute to Magda Szmeichel for her knowledge and professionalism. Thanks to ongoing support from CAB and help from Magda in finding solution to my financial problems, I can get through my health and communication barriers. CAB deserves recognition for the support that I have been offered around my past and current matters. I started getting support from CAB and Magda about two years ago and I’m glad it’s ongoing. I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to Magda for her understanding, experience, support and her personal manners, as well as keeping everything confidential. With gratefulness, [name withheld].”
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The Positive Futures programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund, Perth & Kinross Council and The Gannochy Trust.