Debt Stigma - Let's Break It Down -
UK Wide Debt Advice Charity
Call us at 0800 085 0226
E-mail: contact@debtsupporttrust.org.uk

Debt stigma - let’s break it down

Frivolous spending, too many holidays or just greed are common reasons why people who are not in debt believe others get into financial distress.

I gathered a group of people round a table last week, with nobody owing any debt other than a mortgage, to ask them their thoughts about why debt problems existed. The answers were enlightening.

"Because they buy, buy, buy and don't think about the consequences."

"People just think, I'll spend it now and pay it later without having a plan."

"It's because people can't manage their money."

Some people realised it wasn't just overspending in an uncontrollable fashion causing debt problems, but a change in circumstances. However, nobody sympathised towards a person dealing with a debt problem and certainly didn't think they should offer any support.

I personally still have debt - my student loan from my time studying is still being repaid. The interest rate is low and it's being cleared slowly, but surely, from the original balance. I too have used credit cards and paid them off, but if circumstances were different, for example divorce/separation or  a drop or loss of income, then I could have had a credit card debt which I couldn't repay in such a structured way. Most people may need to turn to credit to survive at a difficult period with the honest intention of repaying the debt in the future.

The Debt Support Trust charity was established because I have witnessed the crippling social and economic destruction debt problems can cause. I've watched friends and family struggle; their plight known by nobody, with their pain, worry and stress almost being masked with a stern, emotionless façade to conceal the true gravity of the panic their situation was causing them.

In reality, debt problems occur for a variety of different reasons. It can be down to overspending on day to day life where the credit cards become a noose around your neck and you face a struggle to get free. Rarely have I ever spoken to somebody overspending on credit who has said they did it deliberately and without concern for their creditors. A debt problem can occur through a divorce or separation. The household costs, which were once paid from two incomes, have now to be paid by one. Even if somebody takes action to address the deficit each month, it will take time to put the plans in motion and all the time the total debt is increasing. Injury or illness can force a person to stop working and their pre-existing debt, which was manageable, still has to be serviced but on a much reduced income.

There are various reasons why a person could get into debt and it's not always as simple as "they just overspend and buy whatever they want".

People contacting Debt Support Trust often feel frightened, unsure and alone. Frequently people cry when they explain how they have reached this point in their life. Their partner, family and friends may not know the full extent of their money problems and speaking to our charity advice team is the first time saying out loud: "I have a debt problem".

When helping people overcome their debt problem, they don't want our sympathy or pity or for somebody to judge their situation. What people really want when they call the charity is for somebody to listen to their financial predicament and offer useful, relevant and tailored solutions so they can take control of their finances, once again.

Breakdown the Stigma

There's only one route to resolving a debt problem and it's through a direct and honest approach to the situation. It's uncomfortable and for many people they won't have opened their mail or spoken to their creditors about their financial problem for months. Taking the first step is the hardest and is often a knee-jerk reaction when contacting us for advice - "today's the day" is what we hear frequently.

Through breaking down the stigma of debt we're encouraging people to seek debt help. It may not be from Debt Support Trust but instead the team at the local Citizens Advice Bureau, but seeking professional advice is important to take the first step back out of debt. Attitudes and opinions to debt need to change as people need the encouragement and strength to deal with the debt head on.

Being in debt is a miserable experience for anybody, so when somebody is struggling to repay their debt they require support and that's what Debt Support Trust is available to offer.

Helping Dermot

Former businessman Dermot turned to Debt Support Trust for advice after he'd been made bankrupt over a £70,000 debt owed to the Inland Revenue.

The 45-year-old married dad-of-two faced financial troubles with a number of creditors after his successful business hit hard times when he lost a number of regular contracts.

Dermot admitted he got into 'severe financial trouble', making matters worse by having his 'head in the sand' over growing money worries and avoided even sharing his financial woes with his wife. His marriage broke down and Dermot faced major health issues with stress and depression.

Since being made bankrupt In 2012 he's faced further issues when legal moves began to force the sale of his family's home to release equity to reduce his debts. He's still locked in a court battle over the case.

Dermot said: "Without question Debt Support Trust has saved my life. At one stage I felt I had nowhere to turn to and I was being put under incredible pressure. Their advice and support has been invaluable.

"Their team has allowed my voice to be louder and clearer as I've faced organisations who see me simply as a case number in a file on someone's desk. They've helped me write letters and given advice at a time I wanted and needed it and I just don't know what I'd have done without them. They've never judged me - they've just supported me."

 

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Stuart Carmichael is the Chief Executive of Debt Support Trust which is open 8am to 7pm Monday to Friday and supports people with advice and solutions to their debt problem.

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