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When it's good to talk  

Born out of the economic recession of the 1980s, Bristol charity Talking Money provides free and confidential advice on debts, benefits and energy bills, and helps people in the Bristol and South Gloucestershire area learn how to manage money.

The charity, originally the Bristol Debt Advice Centre, was set up in 1990 by a group of local residents who were appalled by the growing poverty they saw around them. Their vision was to empower people to take control over their lives, and today the charity continues to play a valuable role supporting people at risk in the region.

Talking Money employs 16 full time and 13 part time staff, has a seven-strong board of trustees and a further eight volunteers. The adviser teams hold specialist advice qualifications and have won many national and local awards for the quality and effectiveness of the service they provide.

“We aim to help people who are at risk of severe financial hardship,” says the charity’s fundraising and communications officer, Fran Bainbridge.

“We want to engage with people before they get to the point of losing everything because of money problems. We try and sort out the issues they have, and then help them learn how to budget and manage their money, and build up their lives again.”

In the past year, the organisation received over 5,000 enquiries and  helped over 2,700 people manage over £13 million of debt, supported clients to reduce their liabilities by over £1 million, and won over £1 million in grants and benefits to help low income households.

“The advent of austerity measures has seen our work evolve,” says Fran. “Ironically we are probably handling fewer cases, because they are now much more complex, drawn out and systems are harder to navigate.

“A typical case was a client with dementia who made a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim but was declared fit for work. He couldn’t advocate for himself and was extremely vulnerable, living in a cold home and unable to remember to take his medication. He needed help on so many levels and it was a very time-consuming case.

“With help from our team, he went to a tribunal and won his case – but his story is far from unusual.”

Clients can self-refer to Talking Money but are also referred by local housing associations, GPs and mental health organisations.

“41% of our clients last year struggled with mental health problems, and that and financial problems go hand in hand,” adds Fran. “It’s a chicken and egg situation – sometimes mental health issues cause financial difficulties; sometimes money troubles are so overwhelming they cause mental health problems. We work very closely with other support organisations in the area to offer a joined up service to people with complex issues.” 

“We meet the clients where they’re at,” she continues, “whether that’s at our office, at an outreach session, or in their home. Sometimes it’s less scary for people to start talking to us on the phone or online.”

The Phone Co-op supplies Talking Money’s phone and broadband, and was chosen because of its ethos of social responsibility and ethical working.

“It’s important for us to work with companies who have integrity and consistency,” says Fran. “We need to reflect our values with the people we work and have affinities with; it’s very much part of who we are.”