Groundhog Day: Advice NI urges households to seek support as ‘heat or eat’ conundrum continues

As Groundhog Day approaches, Advice NI is encouraging households to seek financial advice and free themselves from the seemingly never-ending cycle of debt. Taking place on February 2, the leading debt charity emphasises the first step is to seek support and is urging individuals to break free from a ‘Groundhog Day’ situation – known to most as a series of recurring, unwelcome events.

Advice NI and its members dealt with an increasing number of personal debt cases in the last twelve months, managing over £4.3.4m of household debt in more than 8,066 agreements, signalling that there is often an available solution for people struggling with debt.

Sinead Campbell, Head of Money, Debt, and Quality at Advice NI, expresses her concern regarding growing household debt.

Sinead said, “We’re seeing a growing number of households and families struggling financially and going cold, hungry, or having no hot water is the unfortunate reality for many. As a result, many are over relying on borrowing which can often lead to household finances spiralling out of control. This is further being fuelled by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and breaking this cycle can prove very difficult.

“The biggest contributors are credit card debt and energy debt, which faced a stark rise this winter underscored by recent statistics from the National Energy Action (NEA) revealing an overall increase in energy bills by 123 per cent, in comparison to 2022. During April 2022 to March 2023, our service has also seen a massive increase in of 140 per cent electricity debt – rising from £35k to over £85k – and a large overall increase in energy debt – from £40k to £91k – underlying the growing concern of the energy debt crisis, with households struggling to pay for most basic needs.”

Groundhog Day

Mental health charity MindWise has also highlighted the increased link between the ongoing cost of living and people’s mental health. The combination of low incomes and skyrocketing energy costs has created a crisis in household budgets, disproportionately impacting those least able to afford it and often resulting in severe mental distress according to Michele Loughran, Mental Health Counsellor at MindWise.

Michele said, “January and February are a traditionally difficult period and whilst it’s essential to acknowledge that seasonal variations can often impact our hormones, sleep, eating habits, and overall mood – mental health requires attention every day of the year. This winter however, political instability exacerbates the situation, with many individuals in dire need of greater assistance with utility bills and necessities.

“Whilst it’s tempting to ignore money worries, this only causes problems to escalate and increases anxiety. Sorting things out might feel like an overwhelming task, but you’re not alone, and there is support out there.”

Advice NI’s free and confidential Debt & Money Service, funded by the Department for Communities, aims to help clients free their future by providing straightforward confidential debt advice to tackle the issue head-on. Expert money and debt advisers provide advice and information to help people take back control of their finances, including bespoke support, budget advice, solutions to deal with debt, and negotiating with creditors on their behalf.

Sinead adds, “Ignoring debt whether it’s new or old will only lead to further financial difficulty. When you realise things are starting to spiral or feel like you can’t manage, come speak to us. We can talk to creditors on your behalf removing that first step which many people find daunting.”

To access the Debt & Money Service, individuals can call the Freephone helpline on 0800 915 4604 from 9:00am to 5:00pm Monday to Friday. In addition to the helpline, Advice NI offers various online resources, such as the budget planner, energy comparison tool, and SafeFood tool, which are free to access online.

For more information visit www.adviceni.net/debt and for mental health support visit mindwisenv.org or get in touch with their urgent 24/7 Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

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