If you aren’t sure – or you think you know the right way but would like it confirmed – you need to talk to independent, not-for-profit organisations. These are the people featured on this page. They are the best places to explore the possible debt options, as they won’t make money from directing you down one route rather than another.
(For where NOT to go for advice look here!)
Wherever you go, having a list of your debts and a draft budget will make it quicker to get the advice you need and the less likely you are to need a second appointment or phone call. The figures don’t have to be exact, just let the advisor know which you are confident about and which are estimates.
Face to face
- The Citizens Advice network covers the whole country, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Put your postcode into the “Find my bureau” box to find your local Citizens Advice. In some areas you can call or email them first and they will arrange an appointment if it is needed; others have “drop-in” sessions where you can just turn up.
CAB is the best place to go if you have other problems as well as debts – benefits, housing, employment etc.
- Your Local Authority may have details of other local services on its website (NB make sure you really are on your council’s website, not an official-looking page from a profit-making company.)
- If you are a Christian, you might like the service offered by Christians Against Poverty who offer help with debts, including Debt Management Plans, through local churches.
If you have a job or children or caring responsibilities, it can be difficult to get to a face-to-face appointment and a telephone advice line may be better. All the following options are charities. They are confidential and you will find the advisers sympathetic and non-judgmental:
- National Debtline 0808 808 4000. They can advise which debt solution is most suitable for you and refer you for DMPs or IVAs and set up a Debt Relief Order. Their website has lots of useful fact-sheets and template letters if you want to run your own DMP. They provide clear and simple advice on any queries relating to debt-related court procedures, including CCJs.
- StepChange (used to be known as CCCS) 0800 138 1111. They are best known for operating Debt Management Plans that are free for the clients. They can also set up DROs, IVAs and generally give good advice about which way forward will work for you.
- The Debt Counsellors is a new charity 0300 456 2726. They can provide a full range of debt solutions but they specialise in clients who have little money and need DROs, bankruptcy or low monthly payment DMPs.
On-line debt help can let you investigate your situation and make the right decision:
- For general financial advice, the Money Advice Service website is a good starting point with a neat budget calculator.
- The CABmoney website will let you explore your options and help you run your own DMP if you want.
- You might find some of the online debt discussion boards useful eg Martin Lewis’s MoneySavingExpert forums *. Here you can ask very specific questions on an anonymous basis. They can be great sources of inspiration and tips – support not just to take the right decision at the start, but also along the months and years it takes to clear your debts. But you can’t believe everything you read on the internet – and even if a poster is well-meaning, they may not have fully understood your situation, so their ‘advice’ may not be appropriate for you.
Problems with rent or mortgage arrears, council tax arrears and other priority debts
Unless these “priority debts” are either minor or clearly under control (perhaps you have already agreed a monthly offer of repayment that you can afford) you should probably seek further advice, either from the National Debtline help line (see above) or your local Citizens Advice.
The Tax Aid website has a lot of useful information. Don’t ignore tax debts, even if you don’t understand them, don’t think they are right or can’t afford to pay them. If you need a Time to Pay arrangement, this is best sorted out as soon as possible,
Self-employed or business debts
National Debtline has a sister site: Business Debtline. They provide telephone support to the self-employed, sole traders and people with small limited companies. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you have a personal debt problem or a business debt – they can help you sort this out. Their new FAQs are a good place to start if you are unsure.
If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland
To find a money advisor in Scotland, put your postcode into Money Advice Scotland’s page. National Debtline has a separate Scottish site and their standard help line number, see above, applies.
For Northern Ireland, contact your local Citizens Advice or phone the NI Debt Helpline: 0800 028 1881.
Complex problems, not just debt
If you have benefits issues, rent or mortgage arrears or any other complications, then your local Citizens Advice Bureau (see above) is probably the best place to start.
Unable to cope?
Depression or other mental health problems can make it even harder to manage financial difficulties. I’ve written an article about what you can do yourself, but often it is good to get outside help. Try to get to your local Citizens Advice Bureau to see if they can help you put your debts on hold for a while until you are better able to cope.
If you are desperate, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 – any time of the day or night. You owe your creditors money, not your life.
* MoneySavingExpert is a commercial sites, but the Forums function as a non profit-making community.