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Saturday 16 December 2017

Telling hard-up to quit cigs a 'no-go' for advice bureau

German state bans unemployed from betting


FINANCIAL advisers with MABS, the State's money-advice and budgeting service, are not allowed to tell those in debt to quit smoking or drinking when drawing up budgets to help get them back on track.

Lower mortgage repayments and lower insurance premiums can be negotiated, while spending on essential items including food, gas and electricity may all be reduced, according to the advice given on the agency's website.

But when it comes to cutting out (or even cutting back) spending on the pricey non-essentials of cigarettes and alcohol, a spokeswoman for MABS said merely that the agency "supports" clients to "prioritise necessary expenditure and identify areas where they can reduce or eliminate expenditure".

With the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes currently hovering in the region of €8.50, the average habitual smoker could very easily puff his or her way through €235 a month. The cost of alcohol consumption is more difficult to quantify, given the huge variation in price between drinking in pubs or at home.

Asked for clarification of its official position on the advice it gives to clients in relation to their spending on smoking and drinking, MABS pointedly refused to deny the claim made by informed sources that a recommendation to quit either habit was a "no-go area" for its advisers.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent, a spokeswoman for the agency said: "MABS is a free, independent confidential and non-judgmental service for people who are in debt or at risk of getting into debt.

"MABS works with clients to develop realistic budgets and to put in place sustainable, affordable repayment plans. Clients are supported to prioritise necessary expenditure and identify areas where they can reduce or eliminate expenditure. Money advisers offer advice on all aspects of the budgeting process."

An inspection of the MABS website throws up just one reference to expenditure on cigarettes and alcohol. The two items are included in a sample of the spending diary the agency's clients are advised to keep as they set about formulating revised personal budgets to overcome their financial difficulties.

While some might be critical of MABS' seeming reluctance to encourage its clients to cut out or even reduce their consumption of cigarettes or alcohol, such advice, were it to be given, would almost certainly be viewed by others as an unfair infringement of personal freedom.

Indeed, only last month, German's most economically powerful state -- North Rhine Westphalia -- was at the centre of controversy after it banned unemployed people from betting on sports events.

The prohibition was introduced by the state's gaming authority, Westlotto, following a decision by a Cologne tribunal banning its employees from accepting heavy bets from people they know to be living on social security or unemployment benefits.

The decision confirmed a ruling last March, which said Westlotto should refuse to take sporting bets from those "who bet money far in excess of their revenues," especially those receiving minimum social security benefits.

Responding to the court's decision, a spokesman for Westlotto said the ruling was "out of touch with reality" and "would amount to discrimination, according to our reading of the law"..

Sunday Independent

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