I faced being kicked out onto the street with my four kids at Christmas… I couldn’t even afford presents

A MUM-of-four faced being kicked onto the street with her kids at Christmas.

Amber Smith fell on such tough times she couldn’t afford the rent for her Horsham home in West Sussex after breaking up with her partner.

As she waited for her first Universal Credit payment last Christmas she faced being put out on the street with her kids aged four, six, 12 and 13.

She told The Mirror: “…I discovered we were about to lose our home and had a lot of debt.

“I felt trapped, no way out. I was in a dark place and felt so guilty I couldn’t give my children the Christmas they deserved.”

A year on, she is still struggling and is desperate to return to work, but exorbitant childcare prices are a barrier.

She's says she's grateful to have received help from The Salvation Army over Christmas.

Amber said: "I worry what kind of impact this is having mentally on my children.”

She's one of many Brits struggling to pay bills this Christmas.

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A Salvation Army study of 2,000 young adults aged 18 to 30 found nearly a quarter of families need the charity's help to get though the holiday season.

The eye-opening statistics revealed 20 percent are behind on their rent or mortgage and 39 percent are forced to spend less on food.

It also emerged a fifth of under-30s face a mountain of debt threatening to leave them homeless.

Mum Catherine, aged 24 from Harwich, has a six-week-old baby and an 18-month-old toddler.

Her young family is struggling financially with her partner out of work.

She says: “Money is really tight at the moment and Christmas will be a real struggle. My partner’s short-term job finished four months ago but he can’t find work as his skills don’t match the job vacancies in the area where we live.

“We can’t keep asking our relatives for more help as they have their own bills to pay.

"I can’t believe that I have to rely on charity to get through Christmas but we’ve got young children to think of. I worry about what else next year will bring, but The Salvation Army said they’ll give my partner free employment advice which we hope helps as we don’t have anywhere else to turn.”

The Salvation Army’s Lieut-Colonel Dean Pallant, said the cost of living is eating into people's income and many are falling into debt.

He said: “Christmas should be a time of joy, but there will be no Christmas cheer for those young adults who are struggling to make ends meet and worried about how much longer they can keep a roof over their head.

“There are real people clearly in desperate need behind these statistics, and we are preparing for one of our busiest Christmases ever. Our doors will be open to support the thousands in crisis with food, warm clothes, emergency shelter and Christmas presents for their children."

Earlier this year, research showed one in nine families are struggling to pay their bills — with six million British adults now in energy and household bills debt.

According to Citizens Advice, this comes as coronavirus sees people battle job losses and income cuts.

And one in four households, 15 million people, are worried about being able to afford energy bills later in winter.

Water, electricity and gas bills have rocketed 37 per cent, as millions use more water and power while working from home, say End Fuel Poverty Coalition campaigners.

Get help with bills


GAS AND ELECTRIC

ENERGY bills cost households £1,289 per year on average.

Suppliers must reduce payments if you ask, and some people qualify for Government energy benefits.

Also consider turning the heating off for rooms you are not using, and wearing warmer clothing indoors.

Citizens Advice said: “If you’re struggling to afford your bills, contact your supplier to discuss ways to pay what you owe.

“Your supplier has to help you come to a solution.

“For example, if you owe £400 to your supplier, instead of paying this in one go, you speak to your supplier and tell them the maximum you can afford to pay is £40 a week.

“You agree with them to pay £10 a week to cover the debt, and £30 a week to cover your current energy usage until the debt is paid off.”

Some pensioners and low earners qualify for the £140 Warm Home Discount.

Over-65s also receive a Winter Fuel Payment of between £100 and £300.

Some of those on benefits will get £25 Cold Weather Payments for every severe chill.

And the £170million Covid Winter Grant Scheme offers food vouchers, clothes and funding for bills to vulnerable families.

WHAT TO DO: Phone your energy firm and ask to reduce your payments.

Check you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to.

Citizens Advice and energy companies can help you do this.

WATER

MORE handwashing due to coronavirus advice and more time spent at home means that the 35million people on water meters are now facing increased bills for water use.

Those in homes without meters do not pay as they have a set price.

Water bills average £415 a year.

But the Consumer Council for Water says one in three people do not know they can delay payments and get help from water companies.

Suppliers offer lower prices to people on low incomes and benefits.

Water UK chief executive Christine McGourty said: “If you’re struggling to pay your bill, approach your water company for help. There are lots of ways they can support you.”

Thames Water said: “We want to reassure customers struggling with bills that we have special tariffs to support them and options to spread payments. If people feel they need help, please get in touch.”

WHAT TO DO: Call your supplier to see if you qualify for a low-income water price, or to space out your debt repayments.

COUNCIL TAX

IT’S the biggest annual bill for many people, at around £1,600 per year for a Band D property.

But it is possible to spread payments over 12 months rather than the usual ten.

Councils may give you a discount if you really can’t pay all of what you owe.

You can also get a reduction if you have a low income or live alone – full-time students do not need to pay at all.

WHAT TO DO: Phone your council to ask.

PHONES AND INTERNET

Firms allow you to spread out payments due if you ask them.

WHAT TO DO: Call your provider and explain your financial situation.

They may also be able to switch you on to a cheaper contract.

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