Having trouble paying bills? How to ask your provider for help – Times Money Mentor – The Times | Vette Leader

How do you know when you’re struggling financially? This is a question many people are asking as the cost of living crisis unfolds around them.

Even before energy prices reached extraordinary highs, about a quarter of the population admitted they were finding it difficult or very difficult to pay their bills, government figures show.

This included everything from broadband bills to water, council taxes and car financing.

Understandably, many of the support packages available in these scenarios are aimed at people who are on benefits or who are more vulnerable.

But I’ve been contacted by a multitude of people from all backgrounds, ages and incomes, all of whom are very concerned about being able to keep up with the rising costs. Many of them do not believe that they are entitled to help.

fact is this. It’s possible to have a nice house and a good job and still not be able to afford essential expenses.

If your expenses are less than your income, you have limited money left after paying the bills, or you don’t have enough money for an emergency, you are in financial distress.

So if you belong to this group, what kind of help can you expect? And how do you get the company to listen to you?

You don’t have to be in debt to finally fight, in fact it’s best to ask for help before it gets to that critical point

The Definition of “Financially Troubled”

Regulators, ombudsmen and consumer organizations generally agree that this includes people who cannot afford to pay their bills, either temporarily or in the long term.

The help that can be offered to you depends on your individual situation.

So if you’re between jobs but anticipate your cash flow will be hit for a few months, a company may offer you payment breaks, eliminate fees and interest, or agree to cut payments to get you through that time.

If your problems are prolonged, the suggestions you are given must be designed to ensure that your debt does not increase significantly and that your payments are kept at manageable levels.

When to seek help and if it will affect your credit file

Landing a deal these days can be a challenge. The good news is that as soon as you say you’re having financial difficulties, the company should take action.

Before you pick up the phone, take a little time to work out a quick budget. This should only take about 15 minutes. To help, companies are allowed to ask for some details about your finances.

Make a simple list of your regular expenses versus the money you bring in each month. This allows the company to understand the level of support you require.

After discussing the proposals with the company, ask them to put their proposal in writing so you have time to think about the offer, see what difference it will make, and learn about any subsequent implications (such as damaged credit report files or additional interest after default).

All major regulated industries – financial services, energy, water and telecom – have stated that companies should tailor solutions that are appropriate for their customers’ specific circumstances.

We have more tips for dealing with your debt.

What kind of help could I be offered?

Most sectors of the economy have remarkably similar rules and guidelines from their regulators when it comes to assisting vulnerable people or those with financial problems.

These options can include:

  • Creating realistic payment plans that match the client’s personal circumstances
  • Give people payment holidays or suspend payments to give them some breathing room
  • Suspension of debt interest and fees and reimbursement of excessive fees already charged
  • Providing information about the cheapest fares and fares
  • Regularly assess how your clients in financial difficulties are dealing with their plans and proactively keep in touch
  • Avoidance of collection services or delivery stops wherever possible

energy bills

Energy regulator Ofgem has listed all the help you could possibly get from energy companies, along with information on the schemes and grants available.

Businesses need to be proactive and contact customers who are late on their payments. You must ensure that all debt management processes are conducted in a fair and reasonable manner.

water bills

The Water Consumer Council provides information on the various support options available to those struggling with water bills. Ofwat, the regulator, has a list of support for people struggling here.

mortgages

The Financial Conduct Authority told me that lenders need to consider individual circumstances. This may include bespoke support and payment plans if required.

broadband bills

For those falling behind on broadband bills, regulator Ofcom says suppliers should take all measures to keep customers connected.

They must offer payment holidays and payback plans, offer social or cheaper plans where possible, and refer customers to organizations or charities if they have serious problems. Learn more here.

You can also find much more about living allowances in our guide.

Can you forgive my debt?

A moment of realism here. While companies can (and sometimes do) agree not to charge you for some of the money you owe, it’s not an obligation.

Nor does either policy address the wider implications of the deeply worrying costs we face as a nation in the coming months.

Read more: I haven’t received my £326 living expenses payment – does that mean I don’t qualify?

Is there someone who can manage my debt for me?

If you or someone you know is struggling with long-term financial problems or is feeling overwhelmed by debt, I highly recommend speaking to debt-free charity StepChange.

StepChange can help by creating a practical and realistic debt management plan. They will contact your creditors on your behalf and negotiate payments that you can afford. You pay an agreed lump sum to the charity each month and they do the rest.

Like any debt plan, it’s not easy, but it’s a solution. Never Pay for a debt management service – there are free options.

Learn more about debt help and how to contact a debt counselor.

Can you refuse to help me?

The bottom line is that customers must be treated “fairly”.

If you feel that the company is not offering you any practical help with your debt, file a formal complaint and ask them to suspend interest and fees while the matter is reviewed.

Many companies have free ombudsman and dispute resolution systems that you can turn to if you are still unsatisfied. The most important of these is the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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