By Alan Murdie
It is over 10 years since Nucleus took the decision to specialise in debt advice, ahead of financial crisis of 2008 (then known as the ‘credit crunch’). Traditionally, housing was one of the key areas of the work for Nucleus, and over this last decade we have seen it evolve into an area of debt law where money advice is an integral part of the support and services provided to prevent homelessness.
Housing debt….top of the list and the bottom line
Debt is a multi-headed beast that blights lives of many in the UK. Its most serious effects arise when it causes homelessness, directly or indirectly.
As any money adviser worth their salt will state, housing costs – rent and mortgage payments – are the top priority which must be paid ahead of any other liability. Housing costs are the most important ones to meet. Falling into debt with these will put your home at risk. And if the roof above your head is lost all other debts and liabilities become irrelevant.
Advice that needs repeating
Although this may seem obvious, this is a lesson that needs repeating.
It’s not always grasped because losing your home appears initially to be a long drawn out process but one that progressively speeds up. Easy to miss a rent or mortgage instalment when stressed or ill, undergoing a family trauma or a relationship break-up. Unfortunately, housing debts soon increase, just as a car speeds up like a car careering down a hill. Putting a brake on this process and getting the
vehicle into reverse is what effective debt and housing advice seeks to do, to prevent the otherwise inevitable crash in the form of a possession order or eviction.
The bottom line is housing costs need to be paid first ahead of other debts.
….And creditors need to realise this too
It is a message that needs to be realised more widely, and not just those in debt. Creditors, both private sector and governmental need to recognise this too. One reason why people miss out on meeting housing costs and debts is often that they are being pressurised into making other payments – what debt advisers identify as ‘non-priority’ debts.
The message needs to get across to government departments, council tax collectors, fuel companies, credit controllers and debt collectors large and small that chasing non-priority debts too harshly may end up causing homelessness through mortgage or rent areas, with end result that they get no money back either.
The better-informed creditors and branches of local government realise this, as do the more responsible financial institutions, and some are taking positive steps. But the lesson does need to keep filtering down the lower levels of many organisations who communicate directly with debtors and ourselves when acting on behalf of our clients.
Misunderstanding of the debt law and procedures and often unthinking assumptions and even prejudice against debtors is still surprisingly widespread. Tackling these are among the many goals of Nucleus and Ealing Advice with our work in this vital sector in 2019.