One of the great myths in life is if you put a brown envelope with a bill in it behind the clock in the mantelpiece, it will go away. Sadly, I think even Harry Potter couldn’t make that particular piece of magic happen!
Many of the clients who access our Homeless Prevention Service have fallen prey to the “pop it behind the clock for now” approach to debt. Somewhat worryingly, it seems the power of this particular myth is strongest around Christmas time. Whether it’s the distraction of Christmas or the depression of the winter weather, in January we discover many clients with mantelpieces overflowing not with gifts from Santa but bills, demands and final demands, all “put away until the New Year”.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Last year around this time we were approached by a man with health and mobility issues who was living in unsuitable accommodation and had no heating as his gas had been turned off. He was on a very low income and was not managing well. Initially we helped him to get his heating back on by applying for grants to pay off arrears and helping him deal with the utilities provider. This made his home more bearable in winter. Ultimately this flat was not appropriate for him as he had poor mobility and needed to move to something more suitable on the ground floor. This meant that he did not leave the house as he was afraid of falling and this led to him missing medical appointments and being very isolated.
We worked to find ground floor, sheltered accommodation that was appropriate to his needs. We also helped him move in and equip his home with the things he needed to have a comfortable home.
As a result of our support he is much happier, his health has improved as he is able to access the doctor and other community resources and this has also led to a reduction in isolation.
If you are struggling with bills or debts, having problems with your rent, repairs, your tenancy or anything else that means you think your home is not the safe, secure place you want to call home, please give us a call.
Or perhaps more importantly, if you know someone who is in that situation, whose mantelpiece is overflowing with brown envelopes, literally or metaphorically, then encourage them to give us a call now, not later one, not after the New Year. Call us now and we’ll make sure when Santa comes, it will be to a place they are happy to call home.
Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians.