Having trouble paying your bills? This is what happens with payment arrears | NOW

High energy bills, high inflation: It must almost lead to an increase in the number of payment arrears. Experts explain how to get behind with such a backlog, and especially how to find help to get out of debt again.

1.5 million households in the Netherlands have such large arrears that there are money problems, according to the latest figures (2018), which Nibud has used. “We are talking about payment arrears if someone does not pay the bill for more than a month,” says team leader Frederieke Kokol from Geldfit.

In practice, Kokol sees that the health insurance account is the first to be skipped if money problems arise. “Because if you do not pay it, you are usually still insured.” Transfer of the rent or the gas, water and electricity bill may be of greater importance. “People are also afraid of being thrown out or locked out.”

How do you settle a payment arrears?

Can not pay the bill? So contact the party you owe debt to as soon as possible, advises Kokol. “Then they will be informed and they can think of a solution. Such as a payment scheme or another package that might suit you better.” The sooner you sign up, the more opportunities there are to get help and find a solution.

“Sometimes residents do not report until the water is already over their lips.”

Monika Slaets, Councilor Laarbeek

The Brabant municipality of Laarbeek (23,000 inhabitants) is therefore trying to make the threshold for financial support as low as possible. “Experienced experts think with us about how we can best reach people,” says responsible councilor Monika Slaets.

At libraries and town halls, residents can ask for advice, and there will soon be a ‘walk-in market’. “There is very quiet poverty. As a municipality, we have many facilities, but if no one uses them, it is of no use. Sometimes the residents only report when the water is already over their lips.”

It is also important to get an overview of expenses and income. “That way, you can find out where there are still opportunities to save money,” says Kokol. Or to increase revenue. Geldfit advises people who sound the alarm, for example, to consult the Facility Guide. “There may still be supplements or facilities you are entitled to. It differs from municipality to municipality.”

What help is available with debt?

Since last year, the municipalities have been required by law to contact residents with payment arrears in a timely manner and help them get rid of them. The monitor from Divosa (Socialforeningen) shows that last year 380,000 signals were received about payment arrears to the municipalities. In half of the cases, these were arrears in the payment of health insurance.

For example, Laarbeek collaborates with partners who report if a resident is in arrears. “In that case, one of our consultants will come to visit,” says Slaets. During these conversations at home, the consultant is sometimes welcomed with open arms. “But sometimes someone is not ready for help yet,” Slaets says. After such a home visit, it is determined what help someone should receive. This can be a volunteer who helps to regain an overview of the economy. “We also offer budget courses.” If the problems are too great, professional debt relief sometimes follows through the welfare organization or debt restructuring.

Geldfit also collaborates with various municipalities and companies that refer their residents or customers to them in case of payment problems. “You can contact us anonymously.” Kokol and her colleagues are currently being asked many questions about rising energy prices. “We refer, for example, to the municipalities’ energy coaches.”

When do you end up in debt consolidation?

If debt has risen high, you could end up in debt consolidation. “We are talking about problematic debt if it is not possible to repay your debt independently within 36 months,” says Kokol. “Then it is possible to turn to professional debt relief.”

The debt counseling course lasts 36 months. “It’s a tough journey,” she says. “For three years, you hand over your finances and you have to abide by strict rules.”

If it is possible to pay off the debt yourself, it is preferable. “For example, with the help of a volunteer.” On 31 December, there were 10,500 people in debt restructuring, figures from Statistics Netherlands show. That is 3,400 fewer than a year earlier.

“On the one hand, it is of course nice that there are fewer in debt restructuring,” says Kokol. “On the other hand, it could also be that people are not reporting it or too late if they are in financial trouble.”

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