Telford People

“I was living in fear of debt collectors’ – How Kerry turned it around

Woman who was ‘living in fear of debt collectors’ urges others not to put off asking for help

A woman who had bailiffs knocking at the door while she was recovering from cancer has urged other people not to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to debt.

Kerry Gassama, from Woodside, Telford, said her mounting debt worries were impacting her health and causing her to become isolated from friends and family, before she took the brave step of asking for help.

Now, to coincide with Debt Awareness Week, Kerry has shared her story to encourage other people in her situation to reach out for support.

Kerry, 59, works as a carer and said her problems started when she had to take time off after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

She began to fall behind on bills, and took out doorstep loans which she couldn’t afford to repay.

As demand letters started to pile up, Kerry’s health and mental health began to suffer and she shut herself away from her loved ones – hiding her problems from her five children as she did not want to worry them.

She said: “I wouldn’t open letters, I wouldn’t open the door, I wouldn’t answer the telephone.

“I had cancer and I didn’t know which way to turn.

“I was living in fear of debt collectors. One man who turned up was really horrible and intimidating.

“If there was a knock at the door, I would be peeking out of the net curtains to see if I could see who it was.”

A turning point for Kerry came when her housing executive from the Wrekin Housing Group referred her to the group’s Money Matters team, which offers free financial support and debt advice to tenants.

Kerry was put in touch with one of the team’s debt advisors, Sam Siviter, who came out to her home to discuss her situation.

Sam said: “Kerry was very stressed and emotional. That day her energy supplier had been into her property without her knowing, ripped out her meter and changed it to a pre-payment meter.”

Sam and Kerry went through the huge pile of unopened letters to work out exactly what was owed.

Sam then contacted Kerry’s creditors and got her into a ‘breathing space’ arrangement – a 60-day break from any enforcement action.

Kerry said: “I thought the debt was a certain amount, but when Sam came and we went through everything it was a lot more.

“But that was the first time I felt there was hope at the end of this.

“Sam put me at ease straight away, I felt like I had known her for years.”

The team was also able to help with Kerry’s energy bills and brought her low-energy appliances like a slow cooker and air fryer.

The biggest relief for Kerry came when Sam got in touch to say a Debt Relief Order had been granted. The order meant Kerry wouldn’t have to make any repayments for a year, after which her debts would be wiped.

Kerry said: “That night I actually slept – I hadn’t been able to sleep before that.”

Now cancer-free and back at work, Kerry’s mental health has hugely improved and she is confident in how to manage her money to ensure she does not slip back into debt.

She said: “If Sam hadn’t helped me like she did, I don’t think I would be here now. It had got me so down I thought, ‘what’s the point?’. She saved me, she really did.

“I didn’t have energy to get up, I would be crying all the time. I didn’t want to see people.

“Even my kids have mentioned how different I am now.

“I have got energy, I go out with the girls from work, I take the dogs for walks, I spend more time with my grandchildren.

“I feel so different. I’m not sinking any more, I can live my life now.”

Kerry is now urging anyone else worried about debt to seek help.

She said: “Anybody that’s struggling, definitely reach out sooner than I did. As soon as you know you have got debt and you can’t cope.”

Sam said: “I can physically see the change in Kerry since we first met. She is like a different person, she is so much more confident.

“Facing up to debt can be daunting, but there is help out there once you take that brave first step of asking for it.”

Debt Awareness Week, an annual campaign by charity StepChange, runs from March 18 to 24.

This year’s campaign focusses on barriers to getting debt advice – including mental health, not wanting family to find out, and a lack of awareness of the support available.

If you’re worried about debt, you can contact StepChange for free advice. Wrekin Housing Group customers can also contact the Money Matters team.

Pic: WHG

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