'Breathing space' initiative launched to help Aylesbury residents struggling with debt

From Tuesday 4th May 2021, the new Breathing Space and Mental Health Crisis Debt Respite Schemes will come into effect in England and Wales.

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:38 am
Looks like a great initiative

A new scheme has begun in England to help shield people in problem debt from further interest and charges.

People receiving debt advice can apply for the break, which lasts for up to 60 days, to prevent them falling into a spiral of debt.

The Treasury has estimated that up to 700,000 people could be helped by the scheme in its first year.

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Citizens Advice’s expert debt advisors explain what you need to know about the new initiative.

What is Breathing Space?

Breathing Space is a new scheme that gives people temporary protection from most types of debt collection while they take action to get on top of their debts.

You can apply through a debt adviser for sixty days’ Breathing Space. You must continue to engage with your debt adviser and not take out any new borrowing over £500 in this time. You’ll

also have to continue to make certain types of payments, including ongoing housing costs, utility bills, and taxes.

Interest and fees will be paused on debts included in Breathing Space while these conditions are met.

You can only apply for Breathing Space once in a 12-month period.

Thalia Jervis Chief Executive for Citizens Advice Bucks, said: “We have seen an increase in people coming to us in Bucks who are in financial difficulty. The Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on many. Our advisers across the county help people who have fallen behind on paying bills, need money for food and are getting into debt.

"This new scheme can allow some extra time for people to get the advice they need. It means that no interest or charges are added onto problem debts – it’s a chance to put a plan in place.

"It is important that anyone who feels they are struggling knows where to go for help and what help is available. We are a charity and we provide free and impartial advice. If someone is eligible to use this new scheme, our advisers can really help them to find a way forward.

Are there other types of Breathing Space?

If you’re being treated for a mental health crisis, a separate scheme applies.

An approved mental health professional will need to confirm you are receiving crisis care. Your GP can’t make this confirmation, but should be able to refer you to someone who can. You can then seek help from the scheme yourself, or someone else - for example a carer, social worker or mental health nurse - could apply on your behalf.

The pause on enforcement lasts as long as you’re receiving crisis treatment, plus 30 days. A nominated person will need to keep in touch with your debt adviser to update them about your

ongoing treatment. However, you won't need to receive debt advice or meet any ongoing requirements listed above.

You can apply for this type of Breathing Space more than once a year. If you still need more time to tackle your debts once your crisis treatment is over, you can still apply for standard Breathing Space afterwards.

Lorraine Charlton, Debt Expert at Citizens Advice, said: “We know that struggles with debt and with mental health often go hand in hand. If you’re in the midst of a crisis, the special provisions in Breathing Space should give you the time and space you need until you are ready to address your problem debt.

“Really importantly, these provisions only apply if you’re currently receiving crisis treatment when you make the application. So, even if you are struggling with your mental health, you won’t

be eligible unless an approved professional confirms that you’re getting crisis treatment.”

Who is eligible for Breathing Space?

For both types of Breathing Space, you’ll need to live in England or Wales and not currently be in another formal debt solution - like a Debt Relief Order, Individual Voluntary Arrangement or bankruptcy.

You’ll also need to owe at least one qualifying debt.

These qualifying debts are quite broad and include things like credit cards, personal loans or overdrafts. Many priority debts, such as rent arrears, fuel arrears and council tax arrears will also qualify.

Some debts won’t qualify for Breathing Space. These include court fines, Universal Credit advance payments and student loans. Secured debts like mortgages or car finance won’t qualify

unless you’ve fallen into arrears on your payments.

Your debt adviser will ultimately advise on whether Breathing Space is suitable for you while you identify a longer term debt solution.

Lorraine Charlton, Debt Expert at Citizens Advice, said:

“Most common types of problem debt would be qualifying debts in Breathing Space. This includes priority debts - like rent arrears or council tax debt - that can have particularly severe

consequences when you can’t pay them.

“Your debt adviser will work with you to find the best way forward. That might involve applying for Breathing Space to buy some time while you choose the right debt solution to fit your

circumstances.”

You can get in touch with Citizens Advice Bucks on Freephone 0808 278 7938. Advice is also available on their website which is www.citizensadvicebucks.org.ukBackground

In 2020, Citizens Advice Bucks helped 10,118 people and 3,490 people with debt problems.

Nationally, money and debt advice pages on the Citizens Advice website received 4.4 million pageviews in 2020.