Clients at this London Trussell Trust food bank have few material resources to draw on, but if at all possible they still want to buy a few presents for their loved ones and grandchildren at Christmas.
But receiving her employment and support allowance (ESA) a week earlier than usual before Christmas left grandmother Debbie without enough money to buy food this month. There wasn’t enough cash for that in her account when the standing orders came out. This included her regular standing order for a loan repayment to payday loan company Oakam. She had taken out a loan of £200 for Christmas presents at a mind-blowing APR of 676.6% to pay for Christmas presents. Oakam billed for one month’s repayment (£64, including £4 of extra charges) instead of two weeks (£30), with no warning, says Debbie, of the extra payment. How can Oakam seriously advertise on its website that it offers “affordable loans”?
She also incurred bank charges of £40 to Barclays for being overdrawn, which she says Barclays won’t reimburse.
Debbie is 49, and receives ESA because she has multiple, chronic health issues that leave her unable to work. Five years ago she was the victim of a hit and run accident, when she broke her ankle. This led to osteoarthritis in her knees and ankles which is spreading to her hips. She also has a personality disorder.
Debbie is also paying back money to Provident for another loan. She thinks she borrowed £150, but says that she believes she still owes £300 or so to them.
As well as providing her with three day’s supply of emergency food, we were able to offer her contact details for two debt advice charities in our patch -one of which is the fantastic Christians Against Poverty. They will be able to offer Debbie some practical support with consolidating her debts. Hopefully they’ll also consider contacting Barclays on her behalf to ask them how fair it is to pile bank charges onto someone who is in receipt of ESA and who says her problems were triggered by an early payment and a payday loan standing order that was for more than twice the amount that was expected.
Unsurprisingly, Debbie is also depressed. She has two bedrooms, the second of which is used by her grandchildren when they come to stay at weekends. Having them around means a lot to her, but her housing association (she’s in receipt of housing benefit) is putting pressure on her to move to a smaller property. Her house has been one of the few constants in her life, as she’s been living there for 12 years. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that even the thought of moving is causing her stress and potentially worsening her health issues. So why inflict that on her?
Why do we as a society stand by while the most vulnerable get treated in this appalling way? The truth is that many of us are only a car accident away from ending up where Debbie is today…..