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Sinead Ryan: There is help for families who lost vital bills lifeline

THE collapse of Home Payments will have gone unnoticed by the vast majority of people who have a bank account, pay their gas and electricity bills when they pop through the letterbox and whose mortgage is provided by one of the big banks.

They're people who manage their own finances, to a greater or lesser degree, without any hassle.

They're the people who didn't even realise that companies like Home Payments existed.

Yet for many, especially those on low incomes, its sudden closure means that the lifeline they had has been closed off and they may well lose thousands of euro they had "saved" with the company -- whose job it was to collect small amounts every week from people's homes, and use it to pay the bills as they came in.

They did this, of course, for a hefty fee.



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It mightn't have seemed like much but €6.50 a week, or €338 a year was actually the equivalent of one or two of those bills being paid, but people like the convenience of having someone else do it for them, or they lack the discipline of budgeting themselves.

What the company also did though, was use that money to invest elsewhere -- primarily foreign property -- to make a profit, which they didn't.

Most ordinary people who used the service would have known nothing about this, thinking instead, it was like a big depository for their cash.

Hereditary factors played a big part. Whole families tend to be involved in these private payment companies -- mothers, daughters, grannies -- so that for some, a significant portion of their money has been taken.

They often paid in more than was needed as a form of saving for Christmas or back-to-school time.

What will happen to everyone's money is, as yet, unknown, but Home Payments, like many private management companies, was unregulated -- that is, there was no "in built" insurance mechanism of the State to protect customers. The Central Bank offers a compensation fund for finance companies it regulates who go out of business. No such luck here.

It's not alone. Many debt management agencies have popped up of late, all promising to take the "hassle" of managing your finances away from you. None are free, and yet it's the very people with the least to afford who choose to use them.

Managing your own bills, income and paperwork means you have to be a good budget planner. Those that aren't, get into debt.

They weren't "expecting" the gas bill, or they're like the fellow on the bus who doesn't know what a tracker mortgage is. It's no sin, but it is part of life. Getting in touch with your inner accountant is a good thing.

For those that simply can't organise their finances, both your local credit union and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) offer budget planners and bill payment services -- the latter for free.



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They do just the same job as the private operators, but both are State regulated. That makes a big difference when a company goes under.

For Home Payments customers, getting in touch with one of them today is a good idea.

Cancel any direct debits you had going to the company and start a new solution -- with a safe, reliable and protected body who know what they're doing.


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