UK debt charity to start Irish operation
A UK charity has opened an operation in Ireland to act for people struggling with their debts.
StepChange, which has worked with banks and other creditors in the UK, will open a telephone service here.
The charity is aimed at helping people who are caught with debts from various institutions. The debts can be secured such as mortgages, or unsecured, such as credit card or other loans.
The StepChange service, which is free, is being part funded by Ulster Bank, AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC Bank, and Permanent TSB.
It is being co-ordinated with the Irish Banking Federation.
Whlie it is similar to existing services such as the Money, Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), StepChange will carry out its service over the phone and does not conduct face-to-face meetings either here or in the UK.
StepChange ran a pilot in Ireland at the Central Bank's behest in 2013. It has now signed up to provide the service for three years from today.
Under the service, if a client contacts StepChange, then the charity would put together a Standard Financial Statement (SFS) for the client.
A StepChange representative would then approach the creditor, and talk them through the client's financial position.
StepChange does not legally represent the client, nor will it be able to force the bank or other creditor to accept any recommendation.
StepChange chief executive Mike O'Connor said the charity will be able to act as an impartial representative to the banks. "Being in debt can be very stressful. It is not an easy thing to go through for anyone.
"Our team can work with the bank or other company and outline the client's financial position from an independent perspective," he said.
StepChange will not recommend specific remedies for a person's debts but it will be able to outline what the client is in a position to repay or not as the case may be.
"There will be no 'one size fits all' remedy for a person," said Mr O'Connor.
"For a variety of reasons, a solution that is acceptable to one creditor may not be acceptable to another, but the key thing is to get a person's financial position to a sustainable level.
"There is no point in going through all the negotiations and reaching a settlement if the client will be back in the same position six months or a year later. It has to be sustainable," Mr O'Connor added.
While StepChange does not carry out face to face meetings, it will use a panel of legal experts and personal insolvency practitioners if there is no prospect of a solution to a person's debts.
While the service will be based at the charity's UK headquarters in Leeds, it has a number of staff trained up on the Irish regulatory environment.
Clients can access the service by dialling 1800937435 or going online to stepchangedebtcharity.ie.
The service will operate during office hours Monday to Friday can be accessed by anyone "struggling with debt regardless of which organisations they hold debts with".