Last Tuesday I was invited up to Birmingham to visit the National Debtline offices. It had been arranged for a couple of weeks before and I was intrigued to find out a bit more about what goes on.
Set up in 1987, National Debtline is a free, confidential, debt advice service for people in England, Wales and Scotland and are run by the charity the Money Advice Trust.
If you’ve got a debt related issue, whatever it may be, National Debtline can help. From a Freephone helpline to a newly launched website, they really are the authority when it comes to debt advice.
Helping millions of people over the years deal with their debts, they play an integral part in keeping people’s heads above water when the going gets tough financially.
Some of the issues they can help with are:
- Dealing with creditors
- Court action
- Bailiff action
Anyway back to my trip.
I arrived in Birmingham just after half 10 and was met off the train by the very welcoming Ester who is the Communications Officer for the Money Advice Trust. Once introductions were over we headed to Tricorn House, home of the National Debtline.
Chatting to Ester on the way there I was eager to find out what the plan was for the day ahead and although I would only be there for just over 4 hours I was determined to make the most of it.
First up I was introduced to David and Dennis who, as well as being debt advisors, spend a part of their day managing the National Debtline social media presence. We spoke a little about the history and I was interested to find out that they were originally set up by a charity called Birmingham Settlement to help people with mortgage and rent arrears.
In the early days, when the numbers of advisors were minimal, they struggled to answer all the calls. In the first six months of 1988, 4,000 calls were made but only fractions were able to be dealt with.
Compared to today, they take over 20,000 calls (in January alone) but with over 75 debt advisors to deal with demand you can see how important a service they are and how the demand has grown.
Once we had finished chatting I was then allowed to sit with a debt advisor and listen into some live calls. The first call was from someone wanting advice on a magistrate court fine they had received which had subsequently been passed to a debt collection agency.
After listening to the caller and then the advice given, the first thing that struck me was the amount of knowledge the advisor had. If you can imagine taking multiple calls throughout the day and every caller asking for different information, you can then start to build up a picture of what these guys need to know.
I sat with him for just over an hour and in that time he managed to take a total of four calls consisting of varied subjects. What I didn’t really appreciate before then was the amount of admin that was required with each call and I was impressed how seamless it was to enter notes, call up information and go straight into another call.
We broke for lunch and I got to spend some more time with David and Dennis. It was interesting to talk to them about the social media side of the National Debtline as this is something I take a keen interest in with marketing my own blog and content.
I really feel that this is something they should, when possible, invest more time in as a strong social media presence can reach a whole lot more people. They are already looking into new ideas and one of the things spoken about was how they are beginning to interact with people through forums on the Money Saving Expert site. I think this is brilliant because if you can give the information to people before they fall into debt then you are adding so much more value than just debt advice alone.
After lunch I got to listen to some more calls although this time it was with Business Debtline. This service is similar to National Debtline but it is aimed at the self-employed and SMEs.
What I noticed here was that the callers were more forthcoming in speaking about their debt problems. I think this is maybe because as a business owner they have more clarity in what they need advice for.
The Business Debtline team consists of around 20 advisors which, compared to 75 advisors over at National Debtline, has a lot less resources to deal with calls. I’m not sure what plans are in place to expand this but I can see the need for it to be more and more as time goes on.
It was time to me to say goodbyes and head back down south. I really enjoyed my day and found the whole thing really informative. These guys work so hard to give people sound debt advice and I know from personal experience, without a service like this where people can access free debt advice, there would be a lot more families in crisis.
Everyone can fall into debt and this can be down to a number of things. For us personally, we accrued a large amount of debts over the course of 8 years. Through silly mistakes, wrong choices, redundancy, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and misjudgement, we managed to get in a real pickle.
I can tell you now that we really didn’t know the extent of it and only when we finally hit rock bottom did the actual figure come to fruition.
That figure was £40,000 and to say it now brings a lump to my throat. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I hadn’t done something before but I knew why I hadn’t.
It was self-denial. I can remember now, letters coming through the door from companies demanding money and threatening court action and the like. At the time I knew we had a serious problem on our hands but I put the letters in the drawer and carried on like there wasn’t.
As the months went by and the debts built up, the self-denial continued. At the back of my mind I knew it would catch up with us eventually but I still carried on pretending there wasn’t a problem.
Finally when we hit rock bottom and couldn’t keep pretending everything was fine anymore we knew we were too far in for a quick fix.
That was six months ago and today we are in a completely different situation. We are still in debt but we are in control. Instead of hiding from our debts, we are taking the initiative to sort it out.
No more hiding letters, not answering calls or opening the front door. Instead we are communicating with the people we owe money to. We are being transparent and not making promises we cannot keep.
Every day we are pushing towards becoming debt free and the only way we going to be able to achieve this is by not hiding our problems but dealing with them.
If you are in debt and, like we were, in self-denial then please take heart in what I say. The best thing you can do is get it out in the open. I won’t lie and tell you it will be easy but taking that first step and actually admitting you need help really isn’t that bad.
Whether it’s a friend, family member or a charity like National Debtline, once you get it off your chest, you can then start working your way out of it and in turn lead a more fulfilling life.
There is no stigma in owing money and the sooner you do something about it the better you will feel. I promise.
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