Blue Monday – 16 January 2017
North East residents could be adding to their financial woes if they turn a blind eye to debt in the post-Christmas period.
However, Northumbrian Water is urging people to make a New Year’s resolution to address such issues, with the help of a partnership to support debt management and reduction.
Northumbrian Water’s SupportPLUS programme, which includes a wide range of assistance for people who need assistance as a result of disabilities, also includes support for people who have difficulties with their bills.
The partnership between the water company and StepChange Debt Charity forms part of the programme and can help people to reduce arrears and re-schedule payments to ease debt problems.
Lisa Connell, Customer Manager at Northumbrian Water, said: “While debt and financial problems can affect people all year around, January can provide a particular strain, coming on the back of the Christmas period.
“Struggling to pay bills is often the first sign that things are getting tight and many people still bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away. More often than not, it only gets worse, but asking for help can be the first step towards removing the problem.
“We can refer people to StepChange and their experts will find the best way forward for individuals’ own personal circumstances. It may even be that people are eligible to a reduction in their bills.”
Michael Agboh-Davison, Debt Advice Coordinator at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “Winter often puts extra pressure on household budgets and for many people, events like Christmas can have a big impact on finances for the year ahead. It’s especially important for people to think carefully about what they are spending and whether they can cut down costs or boost their income, but the first step is to put together a realistic household budget they can stick to.
“If they find they don’t have enough to cover their essential bills or living costs, or are borrowing money to get by, these are signs that they might need debt advice before things get worse.
“By working in partnership with organisations like Northumbrian Water we can help to ensure that vital assistance reaches the many people out there who find themselves falling further into debt.”
CASE STUDY: Read Mr Matthews, from County Durham’s story below
Blue Monday, the third Monday of January, is named to recognise the arrival of unpaid credit card bills that might have a higher than normal balance, on top of the existing post-Christmas blues and the cold, dark nights.
Lisa said: “Blue Monday is a great opportunity to focus upon an issue that affects people in many ways, not only financially. The worry of debt and some of the consequences of unpaid bills can cause a strain on people’s health. It’s important for people to know that they don’t have to face their problems alone and help is available.”
People can get in touch via telephone, on 0800 1214608, on e-mail at email@example.com or via Northumbrian Water’s live chat service on the website, www.nwl.co.uk.
CASE STUDY: Mr Matthews’ story
“I used to be a member of the armed forces. After this employment ended I got a job with a company on a zero hours contract.
“Work was so infrequent and unpredictable I was really struggling. I had my mortgage and utility bills to pay which left me with no money to live on. The zero hours contract then started to bring no work for me at all, which left further strain on my finances.
“I signed on for Job Seekers Allowance. At this point I was over £600.00 a month short to pay my bills, let alone buy food. Being an ex-member of the armed forces I have never had any arrears before on any bills and have a perfect credit history.
“I telephoned all the companies I had Direct Debits with and either cancelled them or tried to postpone the payments until I secured work. I telephoned Northumbrian Water to delay the Direct Debit and opt to pay the water bill six-monthly.
“I was then advised to contact StepChange Debt Charity. I told StepChange that Northumbrian Water had recommended me. StepChange then advised me on bill management and also advised that I may be eligible for reduced water charges.
“They completed income and expenditure details with me and went through various options. StepChange then sent me an information pack in the post with my completed income and expenditure.
“Around two days later, Northumbrian Water sent a letter advising they may be able to help by reducing my water bills. I went into the Northumbrian Water offices in Pity Me and handed them the StepChange pack. They took photocopies and took the information away.
“Within a week Northumbrian Water wrote me a letter stating my water bill was reduced by 50% as long as I could pay just £13.00 per month with my Direct Debit. This was great relief for me. It has prevented me from going into arrears as all I was going to do was delay the matter until the next six-monthly bill was produced and I don’t honestly know how I would have paid that.”