Sarah's Story

Because she is tech illiterate, struggles with dyslexia, and is hard of hearing, Sarah had always left the bills to her partner. Soon after they separated, however, she received an eviction notice. She spent the next couple of months untangling her debts with Citizens Advice Barnet.  The situation was serious and complex — she owed over £6000 in rent, £4000 in taxes, and £400 in council tax payments. With no income other than Universal Credit, the debt was insurmountable. After discussing all the options with her adviser, Sarah elected to apply for a Debt Relief Order…

Setting the stage

Sarah was a part-time care worker when her parents were both diagnosed with dementia in 2020. She moved them into a care home, but she continued to spend a significant amount of her time with both of them until her mother passed. Now, her focus has shifted to her father. 

The emotional and mental toll of these events exacerbated Sarah’s own health issues and she decided to take leave from work. Her anxiety and depression got so bad that she had periods when she couldn’t leave her own house. 


Paying the bills

With her health in decline and her focus on her parents, she left the maintenance of her own matters to her husband from whom she is now separated. Although she had some idea that some bills were out of their reach, particularly her taxes, she thought they were otherwise managing. 

“I thought my husband was paying the rent, but he wasn’t,” she explained.

Because she is tech illiterate, struggles with dyslexia, and is hard of hearing, navigating the bills process on the computer or by phone is a slow, frustrating process. Until their separation, he alone managed the bills.

Her situation improved when she received support from her doctor for her depression and anxiety. Then, her situation worsened in a new way: She was so behind in rent that her landlord was evicting her. She first sought assistance, in person, from AgeUK, a local charity for older people. 


Seeking help from Citizens Advice Barnet

“AgeUK advised me to go to Citizens Advice Barnet. They got in touch with Citizens Advice for me and they transferred me to another lady, Irma. She was so good, I don’t know what I would’ve done without her.”

Over several appointments, Irma helped Sarah to sort through her bills and confirm the amount owed with her landlord. 

“Every week I would go and she would call council tax, rent, water…everything. She made all the calls — I gave her permission to speak on my behalf because I’m dyslexic and hard of hearing. Getting her help, it’s the best thing I could’ve done.”


£11,000 in debt

The situation was serious and complex — she owed over £6000 in rent, £4000 in taxes, and £400 in council tax payments.  She owed additional, albeit smaller amounts, for water and other incidentals. The help she had in place, a benefit called Universal Credit, was potentially overpaid after the change in occupancy when her husband left; this meant she could lose some of her income as well.

With no income other than Universal Credit, correct amount or not, however, the debt was insurmountable. After discussing all the options, Sarah elected to apply for a Debt Relief Order.  


Debt Relief Order

A Debt Relief Order is a government-sponsored solution to deal with personal debts you cannot pay. To apply, you must meet with an approved debt adviser, like Citizens Advice Barnet, and meet certain eligibility criteria. If approved, you stop making payments towards the debts listed in the Debt Relief Order for 12 months though you must otherwise remain in good financial standing. At the end of the 12 months, the debts are cleared. 

With Irma’s help, Sarah made the Debt Relief Order application. And, with this in hand, Irma was able to convince Sarah’s landlord to suspend the eviction notice. After some calls, Irma was also able to correct the Universal Credit issue. Her situation so stabilised, Sarah had only to wait for the news.


The outcome

“In the end, we managed to get it all written off – over £11,000. It was such a relief. I have to keep debt free for a year, but that should be easy now that it’s written off.”

With the stress of debt lifted, Sarah’s health and outlook continue to improve. Her gratitude and appreciation for Citizens Advice Barnet and Irma, in particular, is affecting.

“Irma is so patient – I don’t know what I would have done without her. I really thank her with all my heart. She was fantastic.”