Craig Henderson writes about a typical day with the Citizens Advice Edinburgh Money Matters Housing Association Project.
My name’s Craig and I’ve been working as a money adviser for the Money Matters Project since 2008. As a money adviser I can help people to budget their money and help with all sorts of other money related issues. In practice, what people most need help with is debts.
The work my colleagues and I do in this project is quite different from the work carried out in the five main Citizens Advice Edinburgh Bureaux. Money Matters is an “outreach” project which means that we actively offer advice, rather than waiting for people to come to us. That’s because we’ve found that often the people that need the most help are least likely to ask for it.
There’s a number of reasons for that.
Among the more deprived areas of the city, some people just aren’t in the habit of getting help when they need it. They’ve never been to any kind of advice service and nor have their friends or family. Sometimes people get flustered going to what may seem like a scary office. They worry that they won’t be able to explain themselves properly and it’s enough to put them off going. Sometimes people simply think they’re beyond help, which is a real shame because there’s almost always something we can do. Often folk find their debts so overwhelming that they just can’t see the wood for the trees. As a result they don’t know someone can guide them through the forest until we introduce ourselves. We don’t just offer our service randomly of course. Our clients are referred to us by others who think they might need our help. They could be Housing Officers, or Benefits Advisers, or Support Workers of various kinds.
Embarrassment might also be a reason why people don’t seek help when maybe they should. Unfortunately there’s still a lot of stigma attached to having debt problems. My clients often feel really ashamed. I find that very sad because, although some people borrow money recklessly, more often than not people find themselves with debt problems through no fault over their own. It usually happens with an unforeseen change in circumstances, like losing a job, or the death of a partner, or becoming ill. Debt problems are usually a symptom of some other problem.
The clients that I see are all tenants of Housing Associations. I will usually meet them in the Housing Associations’ offices which tend to be more familiar to tenants than one of Citizens Advice’s Bureaux. However, I’m out and about in the car today. As an outreach service, we can also visit people in their homes. That’s because, for a variety of reasons, a lot of people can’t or won’t come to us. Sometimes it’s because they have a physical disability and the prospect of making a difficult journey is too much.
I’m seeing Kelly first and her physical condition means she has difficulty getting to the front door, let alone down to a bureau. Quite often I’ll see people in their homes because they have difficulties other than physical ones. Julie has a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She gets upset very easily and finds it much easier talking about her money problems in the safety of her own home. Afterwards I’m going to see Davey who has been experiencing depression and anxiety. He told his Housing Officer that he was struggling with council tax debt, so the Housing Officer offered to refer him to me. The Housing Officer was also worried that he wasn’t going out much since losing his job. Davey was becoming scared to leave his home, which was partly related to his anxiety about his debts. He was very grateful that I could meet him in his home until he built his confidence back up.
It can be upsetting doing this job, seeing the very hard lives that some people have to cope with. But it’s also incredibly rewarding when I can make a positive difference and we get lovely feedback. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Kelly this afternoon – I’ve got some great news for her!
If you are a tenant of the Housing Association Dunedin Canmore, Castle Rock Edinvar, Port of Leith Housing Association, Hillcrest Housing Association, or Blackwood Housing Association, you can access the Money Matters project by visiting the Money Matters project page.
If you require generalist advice in any other area, please visit our Locations page to find your nearest Citizens Advice Edinburgh Bureau.
Note: Names of clients have been altered in this blog.