Free debt service says most clients over 50


ALMOST TWO-thirds of people who sought help from a free debt counselling and assistance service were over 50 years old, a new report has shown.

William Prior, chairman of the Phoenix Project, said many clients attending the service had become guarantors on the mortgages of their children at the height of the boom and were now being pursued by banks for their own homes.

The Phoenix Project New Beginnings was set up in November 2009 and had helped 2,000 people in financial difficulty by the end of 2011.

The registered charity, based in Portarlington, Co Laois, offers free advice and support from accountants, mediators, solicitors, barristers and counsellors. Its patrons include economist Constantin Gurdgiev, Fr Brian Darcy, former governor of Mountjoy Prison John Lonergan and former minister of state for mental health John Moloney.

Of the 2,000 clients it assisted to the end of last year, more than 80 per cent of the cases involved mortgage arrears. Some 35 per cent of clients had a combination of financial problems including mortgage difficulties, credit union loans, credit card debt and arrears on car loans.

Almost 65 per cent of clients contacting the service were aged 50 or over and more than 70 per cent were married couples.

Some 16 per cent of couples required counselling before being helped with financial problems and more than 100 individuals seeking assistance admitted they had attempted self-harm.

The majority of the clients dealt with at the service, which was established before but has no link to legal aid group New Beginning, were farmers and small business people.

And 17 per cent of clients had become guarantors for their children.

Mr Prior said that in a large number of cases the people who contacted them were so stressed and pressured that they require counselling to enable them to deal with their financial difficulties.

“Frontline professionals at the charity are seeing preventable family breakdown resulting from the pressure of financial crisis being faced by people across Ireland today,” he said.

He said most people that attend for help genuinely want to pay their way, but they do not have the strength to negotiate with banks.

The first step with clients was often to write on their behalf to seek time from the people to whom they owed money. The highest number of letters sent on behalf of a client in one day was 22, he said.

“The letters give them the time and space to deal with their problems,” he said.

So far, the service had managed to avoid any of its clients having their home repossessed, he said.