A new CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Centre has opened in St Patrick’s Parish Church, Ballymoney.
The 22–strong CAP team began taking appointments in November, and the parish is currently busy making up Christmas hampers for CAP clients.
Ballymoney Centre Manager Beth Thompson said: “We are hoping to use the CAP formula to make a difference in people’s lives in our community.”
In the run–up to Christmas, CAP is calling for people to take loans off their Christmas lists and offering advice for avoiding over–spending.
CAP how has centres in Ballymoney and Coleraine providing a free service to people with spiralling debt problems.
Its local staff and volunteers have compiled a top 10 tips to help people enjoy Christmas while preventing debt trouble in the New Year.
Beth Thompson said that while it’s rarely Christmas on its own that gets people into debt, using credit to pay for it can make a fragile situation worse.
“What starts as a bit of an income boost can lead to difficulties when working hours get cut, the washing machine breaks or someone is ill,” she said. “The point is, none of us know what is around the corner for 2014 and the best present for your family is to create some financial stability for when life throws the unexpected at us.”
To help people, the charity has provided the following tips to help people focus on what really matters this season.
1. First of all, give yourself a talking to: some people will always have more than you – and many more people will have less. Aim to remember and mirror the kindness and simplicity of Christmas.
2. Talk to relatives now and agree in advance to ‘just buy for the kids’ or decide to pool your resources to purchase for something bigger for them.
3. Just buy the food you need at Christmas – and if you’re looking for the ‘gut buster’ experience, go bigger on the cheaper items like potatoes and work out what you’ll do with any left overs.
4. If you have guests coming, ask them to bring a contribution eg “Could you bring the wine/pudding/crackers?” If you are the one making the lunch, you are already giving a great deal.
5. Get together with friends and swap clothes, you may just end up with a great party outfit without the cost and it will be fun!
6. Aim for presents to be personal and meaningful rather than expensive. Try photo gifts of special times you’ve had together.
7. Home made presents can be lovely and cheap. Make some marmalade and add a bit of whisky; melt down candles to make new ones and put in old tea cups or do some chocolate truffles.
8. If you are ‘time rich’ make up some vouchers for the things you can do that would help someone else e.g. ‘One hour’s ironing voucher’ or ‘Afternoon tea at my house voucher’.
9. Check out what you can do for free in your local area. The local church will have special services that will be big on meaning and offer a warm welcome.
10. Remember, your time, care and attention is the most valuable thing you can give anyone big or small.
The Ballymoney branch of CAP has also launched its ‘Don’t Wait’ campaign in the wake of the news that nine million people are suffering with debt with just a fifth actually seeking help.
“A lot of people just don’t realise that free help is available,” said Beth. “And yet, there are various avenues like our charity CAP, Citizens Advice and the phone–based free ones like Stepchange.”
The report from the Money Advice Service on November 27 was compounded by the Bank of England’s figures on November 29 saying household debt has hit new records.
The charity’s own statistics show that the majority of people waited more than three years to ring them but that when they did, 94 per cent described it as ‘a great help’ or ‘life transforming.’
Beth said: “It can be hard to admit help is needed but debt is very difficult to escape without professional assistance. The debt charities like ours have the advantage on the individual because we are talking to the banks, and credit card and loan companies all day.
“This campaign is about taking that first step, knowing no one will pass judgement. We just want to look forward to the future.”
From the first call to the friendly ladies on CAP’s booking line, the charity aims to instil a feeling of hope – vital when more than a third of callers say they are feeling suicidal.
Beth, who works from the centre in St Patrick’s Parish Church, Queen Street, then visits every client in their own home.
The charity’s service is unique in that the client hands all the letters and demands to Beth and they are sent to CAP’s UK head office where experts negotiate with every creditor on the client’s behalf.
“We leave new clients with a pile of free–post envelopes and as they receive letters about their debts, they don’t have to worry any more, they just pop them into the envelope and we sort it out,” Beth said.
“We know that people with debt are already often dealing with other problems: job loss or relationship problems, low income or illness so we want to take the pressure off and give them the space to deal with some of that.”
The client is then set a budget and given a suggested route forward with a timescale of how long it looks likely to be until they are debt free – generally within five years, all with on–going support from CAP Balleymoney.
The charity has been operating for 17 years and at any one time handles £73m of secondary debts, as well as helping with overdue household bills and rent or mortgage arrears.
For more info visit www.capuk.org or call 0800 328 0006