MP’s bid to improve debt advice available to residents

With nearly a fifth of adults in south Bristol falling behind on bill payments in recent months, MP Karin Smyth and The Money Advice Service have organised a summit of advice organisations to find and share ways to encourage more local residents to seek debt advice.

masResearch by The Money Advice Service (MAS) shows over 16,000 adults in the Bristol South constituency are over-indebted (18.4% of the adult population, above the national and regional average). These are people who meet either or both of the following criteria:
• they find keeping up with bills and credit commitments a heavy burden;
• they have missed or fallen behind on payments in at least three of the last six months

The roundtable event will bring together a diverse group ofl local organisations who can help encourage more people to seek advice about debts.

“Residents who struggle to keep up with household bills and debts need to know how they can get good quality advice and support,” says Karin Smyth.

“Only one in six people who are classed as ‘over-indebted’ seek support, and when they do so it is often too late, so early access to good quality debt advice is key.

Benefits event March 2016 11“The summit’s aim is to explore ways we can build stronger relationships between over-indebted people living locally, and local organisations – ones that provide money advice, and those that people can end up owing money to, like utilities companies and local authorities.”

As well as considering MAS research into over-indebtedness in Bristol South, attendees will explore barriers that currently stop people seeking advice.

“The outcomes of this summit will help to inform my ongoing work to support my constituents on money matters, which includes my one-stop shop financial entitlement events,” added Karin Smyth.

The Labour MP also organises regular community events, at which she brings together Bristol money experts to explain to residents their financial entitlements to ensure they are not missing out on money they could receive. They follow Karin Smyth’s research showing around £16 million per year in Pension Credit, and upwards of £20 million in Income Support, goes unclaimed by Bristol residents each year.

Organisations attending the 14 October event, taking place at HWV @ The Gatehouse Centre, Hartcliffe, include:
• Bristol Citizens Advice Bureau
• Bristol Credit Union
• Bristol City Council Welfare Rights & Money Advice Service
• Department for Work and Pensions
• Money and Mental Health Institute
• Talking Money
• Money Advice Service

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Head of Debt Advice at MAS, commented: “We know from evaluation of our projects – including Talking Money in Bristol – that after getting advice people go on to reduce or clear at least some of their debts within three to six months. Good advice helps people get more sleep, improve their relationships and strengthen their mental wellbeing.

“We hope that by working with Karin Smyth MP in Bristol South we can encourage more people to seek support here so that they can benefit from the relief advice can bring. Bristol South has higher levels of over-indebtedness than neighbouring areas and we are grateful to Karin and all those at the event for their help in addressing the real problems that this can cause for local residents.”

For people wanting debt advice, South Bristol Advice Services has three debt walk in sessions from 10am to 3pm every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at the Withywood Centre (Queen’s Rd, Bristol BS13 8QA). Their dedicated debt phone number is 0117 903 8358. There are also advice sessions across South Bristol and a general phone line with 48 hour call back available on 0117 985 1122.

Also, MAS’s Debt Advice Locator tool identifies the closest free advice provider based on postcode and includes online and telephone advice details. It can be accessed here