It’s January, which means Christmas bills are starting to drop through letterboxes - at Citizens Advice we are only too aware that this time of the year can be a battle as families struggle to balance the finances.
Citizens Advice has 17 full time specialist debt advisers across all council areas in Northern Ireland. Our advice is free and non-judgemental. Our advisers can assess your own individual situation and advise you on all the options available to you.
Here are some frequently asked questions our advisers have provided answers to.
Can you get my creditors to freeze interest on my debts?
Regardless of what they say, no organisation can guarantee to make your creditors freeze their interest and charges.
When you take out credit you sign an agreement which allows them to add interest and charges to your debt.
However, Citizens Advice has excellent relationships with creditors and in many cases they do agree to stop interest and charges if they know we’re helping you to deal with your debts.
I’ve heard my debts can be written off after six years. Is that right?
If your creditor hasn’t contacted you for over six years then your debt becomes ‘unenforceable’.
This is based on a law called the Limitation Act. This doesn’t mean the debt is written off, but creditors can’t take court action against you.
The Limitation Act only applies to certain types of debt such as unsecured loans, credit cards and catalogue debts.
Other types of debt may have no limitation period, or different rules on how they are dealt with.
What is a debt relief order?
A debt relief order (DRO) is a cheaper alternative to bankruptcy, which stops most creditors from taking further action against you.
It lasts for 12 months, after which the debts included in the DRO are written off. A DRO may be able to help you if your debts are under £20,000, if you do not own your home, have few assets and little available income to pay your creditors.
You can only apply for a debt relief order (DRO) through a special type of adviser called an ‘approved intermediary’.
If you meet the basic criteria for a debt relief order, you may be able to apply at Citizens Advice where we have 17 full time “approved intermediaries”.
I have been contacted by a company saying that they can get my debts written off. What should I do?
There are lots of companies who say they can get your debts written off for you by claiming that your agreements have not been drawn up properly. Be careful. It is not easy to challenge a credit agreement and many are drawn up correctly.
Many of these firms charge large up-front fees and you may not be able to get your money back if they are unsuccessful.
If you are worried about your debts and struggling to repay them get free and independent advice from us first.
We can tell you if there may be genuine grounds to challenge your agreements and also give you advice on all your options to deal with your debts.
Should I use my pension to pay my debts?
Since April 2015, if you are 55 or over, you may be able to take money from your pension fund to pay your debts.
Creditors shouldn’t pressurise you to do this. Taking money from your pension fund early can have a big effect on your financial future. You may also have to pay tax on some of the money that you take. Your entitlement to benefits could change, both now and in the future. If you are thinking about taking money from your pension, contact us for advice.
Phone us on our Freephone number 0800 028 1881 or go to our website where you can get help and chat to a specialist debt adviser www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland