Saturday, 24 December 2011

No room at the Inn

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a housing office with a victim of domestic violence. Several months pregnant, her social worker had removed the other children for her mental health assessment. Sitting with someone I know to be sane (the crisis team agreed), the conversation began as follows:

- you need to make an application online, then it takes about 10 weeks
- do you have any arrears, because if you do you are not a priority

Christmas heightens the irony, for how many of us have ignored the simple nativity in favour of festive perfection? I have no doubt that debt has brought us to this service, pruned to inhuman efficiency, a few hundred quid, more valuable than the lives of mother and child. 

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What angers me most is that we deny our humanity in the politics of cuts, conferring the status of victim, simply to raise our own. How dare we lift others out of poverty and destitution, when it is the weight of our self-gratification, which keeps them there?

We are complicit in shirking responsibility - politicians, journalists, civil servants, the judiciary, bankers and consumers alike. Whether rioting or spending, we violate our most sacred to enforce our way of life. It is obscene.

Anyone may be traumatised - man, woman or child. Abuse holds no respect for class, creed or colour. Rather than perpetuating the agony, to heal these experiences demands humility. There, but for the grace of God, go I. 

By the time you read this post, you will be ready for Christmas, be it flash, frugal or decidedly alone. There is no going back. May I ask you to come forward in 2012, would you make some room at the Inn? Due credit to your New Year’s resolution, thank you.

 

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Image: maya picture / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, 12 December 2011

Checking in at Experian

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"It’s a bit like waiting outside the Headteacher’s office when you get an invitation to visit Experian," yet Emma Bryn-Jones was pleasantly surprised to find her own personalised parking space. "I'd have preferred 'Experian welcomes Zero-credit' because of its implications for 'no credit checks', but being welcomed by a credit referencing agency was wicked," said Emma!

Due Credit!
For the past few months, Zero-credit has been part of the East Midlands Financial Capability Forum, where money advisers from all sorts of backgrounds meet to share new developments and ideas. Groups like these meet all over the country, funded by the Money Advice Service and our local group is brilliantly organised by Corby CAB.

Nottingham based Experian is no exception to the range of agencies that attend and host these events: advice charities, social landlords, credit unions, financial educators, lenders, social enterprises, you name it. Visiting each other’s premises increases the opportunities to collaborate, respect and understand different consumers’ needs.

Computer says no...
At Experian, James shared top tips for advisers helping people with damaged credit scores. Financial transactions create such a wealth of information that it is less likely to be a declined loan that causes difficulty, these days. If your record is not up to date, you may still be carrying the can for a problem you have resolved.

Your credit history is as much as part of your tool kit as your qualifications or health records. If you fail your driving test, you try again. During an accident or illness you want care to get well soon. So, when squeezed by recession, why on earth do we go cap in hand to the back street barber of high cost credit?

Critically
Before assuming your less than perfect history consigns you to the scrap heap, remember how many others are struggling as you are. Miscalculated repayments will set you back with arrears, default and bank charges - yet more reasons to pay over the odds for things you may need. It is impossible to recover from a failure or difficulty with more of what caused it.  

After Emma's visit to Experian, we're inclined to think of them as wealth care professionals, keeping track of how well we’re doing to get out of this mess. We need a clean bill of wealth, so that the opportunities for borrowers are the very best they can be. Here’s how to go about it:

Check
- you’re on the electoral roll 
As soon as you move into an area, let the local council know. You wouldn’t give the wrong email, address or phone number for a job application, now would you?

- your connections to others
Whenever you have shared responsibility for borrowing, jointly or as a guarantor, others’ money management will show up on your record. You have every right to end this relationship, but you need to do so in writing.

- your circumstances
If you’ve had difficulty keeping up to date with an account, explain why. Each account entry allows you write up to 200 words about problems like a disagreement over poor service, redundancy, illness, divorce or separation. When you put your side of the story, the computer cannot say no, because only a human being can read it – not a guaranteed “yes”, but discretion is more likely.

- your cash withdrawals
Every lender has different acceptance criteria, but when contracts for energy, insurance and telecommunications are credit agreements also, it pays to stay in good shape. Lots of cash withdrawals on a credit card can be a sign that you are struggling to make ends meet. Fears that you’ll miss a payment may make you a risk and can put prices up.

- your settled accounts
With so many struggling, defaults and arrears are a bit like a flu virus and the system cannot always cope. Particularly if your delay went so far as a County Court Judgement that you have now paid, you need to make sure that your record shows a certificate of satisfaction. To speed things up, ask your creditor to send a letter to the court confirming payment.

- you can count to six!
Individual account records are wiped after six years, leaving only the most recent information. Given the economy looks like it may take some time to recover, why not set your sights on a wealthier future and start rebuilding your history today?

 

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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Our kinda payday for our kinda people

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Wednesday 7 December was a landmark for questions into the relentless growth of payday lending. It all kicked off with the BBC featuring the results of a massive new survey by a leading pollster for a Zero-Credit subscriber. 

On ITN, our newly elected Due Credit Tsar, and founder of Say No to Payday Loans, Steve Perry, gave his take on the survey results, while on Channel 4, another Zero-credit subscriber spoke about the rising numbers of payday debtors. Over on Sky, a Zero-credit member told viewers how credit unions can prevent knee-jerk borrowing through regular saving and access to responsible credit.

With Zero-credit covering all news bases, it comes as no surprise that the professional body representing payday lenders, the Consumer Finance Association, is courting us for pointers on how to do better - all this from just the first in our Mystery Shopping for Online Credit series and a whole load more to come in the New Year!

Should we offer the Consumer Finance Association a subscription to our Coop? Well it all depends on whether YOU are prepared to become part of one of the strongest consumer rights movements yet. If you want financial services to work for and not against us there’s never been a better time to join Zero-credit.

 

Individual Member - £1.00 yearly Business Subscriber - £30.00 yearly

Image: Rob Wiltshire / FreeDigitalPhotos.net