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Charity receives ‘hundreds of calls’ from Westmeath

Tuesday, 10th December, 2013 12:43pm
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Charity receives ‘hundreds of calls’ from Westmeath

William Prior is the founder of the Phoenix Project, which helps people to deal with financial problems.

Charity receives ‘hundreds of calls’ from Westmeath

William Prior is the founder of the Phoenix Project, which helps people to deal with financial problems.

A charity which helps people who are at the end of their tether trying to figure their way out of their financial pressures, said this week it has received “hundreds” of phone calls from Westmeath.

“We get calls from all over Ireland – a lot from the midlands – and we’ve got hundreds of calls from people in Westmeath,” William Prior, founder of Phoenix Project Ireland told the Westmeath Examiner.

Mr Prior was in Mullingar for the major IFA farmers rally at the Mullingar Park Hotel, with a view to getting the word out to farmers in trouble that there is a free service out there, aiming at helping people cope with their problems.

“It’s not just farmers we help: it’s everyone – builders, nurses, guards,” he said.

Set up in 2008, as the economic crash really began to hit, the Phoenix Project is based in Portlaoise, and using a mix of full-time professionals and volunteers, it offers an advice service to people in difficulty.

Julie Sadlier is a solicitor who works full-time with Phoenix Project, and she revealed that there is an enormous amount of hardship out there.

“We’re totally free, funded by donations from people lucky enough not to have been struck by the crisis,” she says.

“We have financial advisors, including former bankers who will help people fill out the forms their bank wants; social welfare advisors, for anyone new to the social welfare system, or wanting to know their social welfare entitlements; we have stress counsellors, and I’m a solicitor, so we give legal advice, although we don’t do legal representation.”

The service prefers those needing its help to make an appointment and call to the office: that way, they can see the advisor or advisors best able to help them, and they can bring with them all the paperwork relating to their situation.

“A quick phone call isn’t enough: quite often, people aren’t able to get the full story out over the phone,” says Julie, adding that another dimension is that the staff and volunteers are all professionals, with a code of ethical conduct to which they must adhere, and therefore, they need to meet the people face to face, and get all the facts, and see all the relevant documents.

The advisors can’t, naturally, erase people’s difficulties, but they can help them with strategies that may help them through, or show them options that they may not have realised existed for them. It’s about information, and it’s about empowerment.

“It’s a mix of information and understanding and then empathy, and the most common phrases I hear here on a day to day basis are: ‘I know I’ll sleep tonight’, and ‘you have taken a weight off my shoulders’,” she says.

Some of the situations are so bleak that there is no easy way out. Julie cites a recent visit by a wife in her 50s, and a husband in their 60s, who ran a highly successful manufacturing business supplying the construction sector.

Prior to the crash, they had a turnover of €40,000-50,000 a week; they owned their own home; they had substantial savings put by for their retirement; they had no personal loans, but they did have some business loans.

When their daughter – who worked for the company – asked them to act as guarantors when she bought a house, they readily assented.

Then, the crash happened; the husband was diagnosed with cancer; and while undergoing treatment for that condition, he suffered a heart attack.

As a result of the crash, the business fell; their daughter was left with no choice but to emigrate.

“They used all their savings paying every supplier; they paid off everybody; they paid off their overdraft – which was with the same bank through which they went as guarantors for their daughter.

“The bank are now pursuing them and want them to sell their daughter’s home, and the family home, to pay off the daughter’s mortgage,” says Julie.

Sadly, she admits, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for them.

“He won’t get another job – and he’s actually trying to resurrect the business, and he’s not well, and they have been existing on disability payments – and they’re going to end soon; and she was being paid as his carer.”

Heartbreaking stories like this are an everyday occurrence – and Phoenix Project isn’t able to just make everything alright.

“What we were able to do is go through all the issues, and separate them out, and advise them on what to do with the bank,” she says.

They left with a strategy aimed at giving them more control over how and when to handle disposal of their daughter’s house, and how to “buy time”, which is, in itself, a useful tool in the effort to get through the crisis.

Julie is also watching their case closely to see if there have been breaches by the bank of the codes on how financial institutions deal with people with mortgage problems.

Julie has found that the rural community has been quite badly hit by the crisis – and there are a lot of situations in which people built homes on family land, but are now suffering mortgage difficulties, and in danger of losing those houses.

Julie and William encourage anyone with financial or emotional difficulties to contact Phoenix.

And, Julie continues, any donations towards the work they do will be gratefully received. The organisation is a registered charity.

• The Phoenix Project is based at 25 Kilminchy Court, Portlaoise.

It can be contacted by phone on 057-8636830 or 057 8636831, or by email on support@phoenixproject.ie

phoenixproject.ie.

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