With the cost of life crises crippling the country, many families, including the Fingales, are struggling only to meet their needs.
This week, The Fingal Independent spoke to Gwen Harris, regional manager for MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service), North Dublin, to hear how the situation on the ground is for those in distress.
“In a way we have peaks and troughs with calls all the time, in or out of school or when bills come in,” Gwen says.
“We’ll see normal peaks and then all of a sudden, it’s calm with beautiful weather. So there’s a lot of external factors about why people might call that, but we’ve seen that as you call different people.” What can you say?
“We won’t have enough instincts to say we are out the door, but we are probably looking at pre-Covid numbers at the moment. If you can imagine there was a lot of government protection during covid, we saw a drop in people contacting MABS, so we’re now looking at the 2019 figures, pre-covid natural patterns. ,
Gwen says people are now contacting MABS who have never contacted the service before. She points out that there are people who may not have debt or “problem debt,” but who are really struggling to make it through the end of the week.
In general, she says, more people are starting to worry about the risk of being owed, something she attributes to general inflation and increased cost of living.
Typically, people will be in contact with MABS regarding budget problems and difficulties in paying rent and mortgage dues and utilities such as gas and electricity. MABS helps people in these situations in many ways, as Gwen explains: “We have a very defined process as we have been going for 30 years now. So we’ll first look at people’s income, to make sure they have all their rights and entitlements, the right taxes, social welfare support, and then we help them draft the budget and see for themselves. Whether there are any changes they can make to help absorb the increase in cost of living.
“What usually happens is that people don’t have any changes they can make, so we’ll help them, we’ll either represent them to their creditors and seek a lower payment or if they contact the creditor themselves.” We will support them if they want to. We support them and help them approach creditors to find a more affordable or sustainable plan for them.”
According to Gwen, the solutions may be short-term focused, or some may be longer term, for example, a repayment plan that lasts for the rest of the loan term. For those with large dues, there are other options: “For those who are dealing with large dues, we will have a few different options. So we are making a voluntary arrangement, so people have options under insolvency under the Insolvency Act 2012.
“So it could be for someone who has no mortgage and loans less than €35,000, MABS processes it ourselves, we do it as an organization, or if someone is dealing with a crisis mortgage loan. So we work with the Bankruptcy Service of Ireland and the Legal Aid Board and they may have access to legal advice or a practitioner under the Insolvency Act, and we can arrange vouchers for free advice for the Abhail Plan.
Gwen explains that there are three different fare plans that can be of MABS assistance. For someone residing on council property, MABS can work with council and make an arrangement that best fits the tenant’s needs.
MABS also works with HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) where one is getting assistance to live in a private rented accommodation.
And lastly, MABS works with landlords of people who are paying full rent without any assistance. Prioritizing service, Gwen says, everyone has “a roof over their head, food on the table, light and warmth.” Falling behind would be loans, credit cards or any secondary bills the customer may have.
Gwen says: “One of the biggest impacts we’ll see … is that so many people come to us who are so full of guilt and shame about being in debt that they’ve never talked to anyone, They are keeping it all inside, they are probably not sleeping or eating properly, their standard of living is completely affected, they are so isolated from being in debt.
“When we get feedback from customers, the first thing they feel is the relief of support and just knowing they have someone to help them on the journey. We are not saying that we are everyone today. Everything is going to be okay for, or ever for, anyone, but it’s support and guidance and knowing that they are not alone.