Falkirk families face a financial hangover in the New Year.
Social services advisers warn the “buy now pay later” Christmas mentality will inevitably lead to shocking credit card bills for people who struggle to pay them – especially in the current economic climate.
They say the stark truth is people who spend too much – whether it is on extravagant presents for youngsters or luxury items you would never normally consider buying – will be bombarded with demands for cash that have the potential to wreck lives.
Those working on the frontline have seen a growing number of people struggle to balance the cost of Christmas with the rising cost of living.
Margaret Gray, manager of the Denny branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau, said it had been one of their busiest years.
She added: “There has been an increase in the number of people coming forward with Christmas money worries this year, but it’s been a tough year in general for many people.
“An increasing number of people have been coming to us to enquire about sequestration. People see this as a relatively quick solution to their problems, but we need to put it in perspective for them and make sure they are aware of the risks it involves.
“It’s not an easy process, but it is an indication of the number of people that are struggling.”
However, there is support available for people who overspend - Falkirk Council’s Community Advice Services, part of the social work operation, is there to help people deal with the festive fall-out.
Split into two sections – debt advice and welfare rights – CAS provides support and information to hundreds of clients every day.
Graeme Mitchell, welfare rights service team leader, said his advisors deals with welfare and debt problems throughout the year, but admitted the biggest influx comes at the end of January.
“I know the debt advice team is busy at this time of year,” said Graeme. “and it actually gets busier after New Year is over at the end of January when the credit card bills come in.
“In the most serious cases this can lead to people struggling to pay their debts, even their rent and utilities.”
While colleagues in debt advice prepare to help people cope with their post-Christmas credit calamities, Graeme and his team will be inundated with people looking for help to appeal against Department of Work and Pension decisions to cut their benefits.
Graeme said: “The large numbers of people we have coming in now is a result of the DWP migrating away from incapacity benefits to employment support allowance.
“This has led to people having to take a medical in order to claim their benefits and a large number of them are failing.
“This means they have to sign on as unemployed or, in some cases, they don’t qualify for benefits at all.”
This national change in the benefit system has seen a 200 per cent increase in the volume of clients contacting welfare rights specifically in relation to ESA in the last few years.
“It has had a big impact on the people of Falkirk - there is no doubt about it,” said Graeme.
If you need help with welfare or benefit issues call (01324) 501404 and if you require debt advice call (01324) 506735.