A few years ago, when I was 18, I became pregnant and at the same time my parents got divorced. Both my parents were living away and I was left looking after my younger sister in a 3-bedroom house. I was studying at college but also juggling my studies with working to pay the bills.
To get by, I purchased goods from catalogues and used credit cards. For a while, I was able to make the payments but then I couldn’t. Around that time, my Dad died and I felt really low. So, for a long time, I tried to ignore my debts and bills, but then my debt got sold on to a debt collection company and they started knocking on the door regularly. It got worse when my partner moved out and I was left paying all the bills for me and my daughter. If someone knocked I didn’t dare open the door, and I used to leave the blinds closed so they couldn’t see if I was in. I didn’t like to leave the house in case a creditor approached me in the street.
All the time, I just felt anxious. To make sure my daughter had what she needed I would go without things that I needed, like new clothes for work or even food.
My brother and sister-in-law had been helped by Riverside Money Advice, so they suggested I get in touch. There was a waiting list, but after 3 months I had my first appointment. I don’t like to ask for help and felt a bit nervous. But because my brother and sister-in-law had been helped, I knew it would be okay.
At the first meeting, I took a folder with all the information about my debts and the advisers went through it all carefully. It took about 2½ hours to go through it, but when we added it all up there was £8,500 owing. They also asked me how I got into debt, so that they could understand my situation. Both of them were very non-judgemental and made me feel so at ease. They had a lovely aura about them and showed that they genuinely cared about me.
I’ve always believed in God and go to church sometimes. So, I was pleased that they prayed with me each time we met. It was lovely, a nice personal touch.
At the second meeting, we checked everything again and then wrote to all my creditors to get them to stop contacting me. The team applied for a Debt Relief Order (DRO) on my behalf. This went really well. The meeting was on a Friday and by Monday the DRO was approved. It was a big relief when the team called me, as I had thought it would take longer. On the same day, a bailiff called to seize goods from my house. I was able to give him the DRO number and he left without taking anything – the DRO had come just in time.
It’s been really important to have long-term support from Riverside Money Advice, not just a one-off consultation.
Since receiving the DRO, I’ve met with the team again and have been helped to budget using a spreadsheet showing all my bills. They also helped me apply for discounts that I’m entitled to, for example, on the water bill. It all feels like a big weight has been taken off my shoulders. I’m not receiving 15 letters a day from creditors and I can open the blinds and answer the door without worrying. I’ve been able to budget much better and live more comfortably.
Overall, I’m a much happier person. I’ve learnt a lot from this experience. At 18, like many people, I wasn’t used to handling money and making decisions. But having lived on my own since then, I’ve learned that it’s important to be wise in your decisions and that if you’re in trouble, you might have to push past your boundaries to get the help you need.