The word ‘uncertainty’ hangs over nearly every aspect of life nowadays, including the financial wellbeing of many families and individuals.
Throughout the various stages of the pandemic, the state-sponsored Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) has been working with clients over Zoom, phone calls as well as in-person.
MABS, who have offices in Castlebar and Ballina, provide a free and confidential support service to those in difficult financial situations.
Regional manager of the South Connacht MABS area Rosaleen Maher says that working with clients via Zoom and phone calls has been adequate, but less than ideal.
Rosaleen tells The Mayo News that dealing with clients who are often experiencing psychological stress requires a degree of compassion and empathy that remote communication doesn’t offer.
“Under the current circumstances, Zoom is a workable alternative but in my opinion it’s no replacement with face-to-face engagement,” she said.
While MABS are now currently operating via Zoom and telephone only, they are planning to recommence face-to-face appointments – which were allowed earlier in the year.
“People come to MABS because they’re struggling,” said Rosaleen, who has worked as a money advisor for 15 years.
“They’re coming because they have arrears in their mortgage or they’re struggling with credit card debt and sometimes people can experience a sense of shame. It’s very important that a money advisor can create that kind of non-judgemental environment where the client is able to tell their story.
“In 99 out of 100 cases the client really wants to repay the money. They want to repay it but they’re just not able because something has happened in their life like a bereavement or a loss of a job or an illness.
“It’s very common for people’s financial situation to deteriorate because they have an illness, particularly with a child … those things can happen to anyone, but sometimes people do feel ashamed that they’ve let themselves and their family down.
“Once the client comes in and works with a money advisor and gives them the authority to negotiate with their creditors, talk about their problems and looks at potential solutions, that’s the key to it all.
What the future holds
Given that the worst of the economic damage caused by the pandemic may be yet to come, services like MABS could well see a rise in demand similar to that witnessed during the 2008 recession.
“There’s a very good staff in Connacht MABS,” says Rosaleen.
“In 2008 when the economy crumbled, we had a huge influx of new clients. MABS staff adapted and responded, and we’re doing the same at the moment.”
While moratoria on debts from various financial institutions has helped alleviate the numbers seeking help, Rosaleen believes that more people will turn to their help if creditors become more active in the coming months.
“Over the summer period it was quieter than normal,” she says.
“There were moratoria in place with the banks for mortgages, the utility providers had also put in place a ‘no disconnection’ agreement. The clients that we would normally see probably weren’t being contacted by their creditors with such urgency, so they probably didn’t feel compelled to contact MABS with such urgency.
“I’m sure their hands were tied with other things at home, like home-schooling and trying to work from home. From September on we would have increased trend with clients contacting us.
“Some of our clients are still in receipt of the PUP and believe they will have jobs to go back to when restrictions are lifted, and they may or may not prove to be correct. There still is a lot of uncertainty. My feeling is that we will have a lot of clients in Quarter 1 and 2 of 2021.
“There isn’t a silver bullet for everyone, but we do offer the space to listen to what the problems are … sometimes things aren’t as bleak as they might seem.
“If people come to MABS they will have a friendly listening ear, and someone that is professional and knows what the process is. It’s all free, and it’s all confidential.”
MABS can be contacted free-of-charge on 0761 07 2000 between 9am and 8pm Monday to Friday.