“One day I was stood by the side of the road contemplating life and thought ‘if I was to die now, no one would miss me. I can’t provide for my family, I’m just going to end it.”
Steve Goddard is a father of two who hit rock bottom when he fell into debt despair after losing his job.
He’s one of more than 100,000 desperate debtors who each year attempt suicide in England.
That’s according to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
The charity has called on the government to change legislation which it says contributes to people in problem debt becoming suicidal.
‘We skipped meals’
“I have experienced bouts of anxiety and depression at various times in my life, but the worst period was when I was made redundant from my job,” said Steve Goddard, aged 40, from Colchester.
Adding to the stress was the fact that Steve’s wife had just gone on maternity leave for their second child and they had recently moved home.
“The bills were mounting up, we were falling behind on rent and council tax, and my wife and I were skipping meals several times a week in order to make sure the children had food,” Steve recalls.
Eventually he turned to debt charity Christians Against Poverty, which helped him sort out a debt relief order.
But it was at that point that his mental health really deteriorated. “The pressure had lifted, but the feelings of failure set in. I felt useless, and that I should have been providing better for my family.”
After contemplating suicide he went home and told his wife how he felt, and she persuaded him to get therapy. Then, in 2016, things turned around and Steve was offered several jobs in one go. He is now back in work.
He says: “It can be really hard to talk about financial problems when you’re struggling. You kind of go into your shell, close the curtains – which makes it hard to tell your bank.
“And if you talk to people about your debts, some people assume you’re there to beg for money – I think that’s why a lot of people don’t talk to friends about their debt.”
There are a number of ways in which someone’s financial circumstances can put them at risk of becoming suicidal, according to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
They include long-term factors such as persistent poverty and financial insecurity, as well as sudden triggers such as “intimidating and threatening letters” people receive from lenders.
For example, the legislation demands that lenders’ letters to people persistently struggling to make repayments on most types of credit (from overdrafts to credit and store cards, payday loans, personal loans) must include the following complex and intimidating text in full – and that it should be capitalised or put in bold:
- IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE BEFORE THE DATE SHOWN THEN THE FURTHER ACTION SET OUT BELOW MAY BE TAKEN AGAINST YOU [OR A SURETY]
- IF YOU HAVE DIFFICULTY IN PAYING ANY SUM OWING UNDER THE AGREEMENT, OR TAKING ANY OTHER ACTION REQUIRED BY THIS NOTICE, YOU CAN APPLY TO THE COURT WHICH MAY MAKE AN ORDER ALLOWING YOU OR ANY SURETY MORE TIME
- IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHAT TO DO, YOU SHOULD GET HELP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. FOR EXAMPLE, YOU SHOULD CONTACT A SOLICITOR, YOUR LOCAL TRADING STANDARDS DEPARTMENT OR YOUR NEAREST CITIZENS` ADVICE BUREAU.
The text is often preceded by threats of court action at the top of letters, and embedded within longer statements featuring complex information about the individual’s debt.
“A law set decades ago doesn’t just allow companies to use intimidating language when collecting debt, but near forces them to do so,” said Martin Lewis, the charity’s founder and the entrepreneur behind Moneysavingexpert.com
“The last thing those struggling with debts need is a bunch of near thuggish letters dropping through the letterbox, in a language you can’t understand, threatening you with court action.
“And with such a tight link between mental health and debt crisis, we know many of the people receiving these letters are extremely vulnerable.”
The charity is calling on the government to update the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which contains rules that dictate the content and language of creditors’ letters to people in financial difficulty.