We are right to feel jittery about the rising cost of living, but no one needs to face it alone - Andrew Bartlett

If anyone in Scotland hasn’t already directly experienced the cost-of-living crisis, they don’t have to look very hard to see it coming.

Andrew Bartlett, chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland. PIC: Contributed.

Ever since the summer there has been a story almost every day about the price of goods soaring, challenges with supply, and vital commodities such as gas and electricity becoming rapidly more expensive.

For many, this is happening at the worst possible time.

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Even without external factors, thousands are facing economic uncertainty with the end of the furlough scheme which has kept millions of heads above water for the last 18 months.

And with the cold weather setting in after an unusually generous summer and early autumn, members of the public are feeling jittery in more ways than one.

The impending crisis can seem particularly harsh given so much of it is completely outwith our control.

There is barely a business in the land which has not had to wrestle with a new challenge over recent months in relation to supply and demand.

When individuals or families are facing their own specific financial problems, there are bespoke ways out of it which can be found to suit their needs.

At Advice Direct Scotland we help people with very particular challenges to navigate their way from a seemingly impossible debt to financial sustainability and a bright and secure future.

That can range from someone who has suddenly lost a well-paying job, to those who have gradually amassed various debts simply trying to sustain ordinary life.

But when we are talking about issues which are hitting millions across the globe, a solution can seem so much harder to find.

When the price of gas in one part of the world soars, people feel powerless when their energy bills rocket by hundreds of pounds a year.

No amount of negotiation or switching companies appears to work, and there is a danger that people can feel boxed in with little or no alternatives.

Even experts who extol the virtues of changing supplier to get your bills down are exclaiming right now: whatever you do, don’t switch.

These are precisely the moments when it is most important to speak to someone and seek advice from energyadvice.scot.

We encounter so many people who contact our helplines – either by phone or through online chat – who have done so either on a whim or as a desperate last attempt to find a solution.

We also find that they haven’t previously spoken to anyone about their financial situation, and many say they only wish they had got in touch sooner.

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It’s so much more than a “problem shared is a problem halved scenario” – though for some that can make all the difference too.

Our experts are on hand to address exactly the kind of problems so many people now find themselves experiencing.

The free and impartial service helps people map out a path ahead which can change a seemingly dire situation into actually quite an optimistic one.

The more someone hunkers down and ignores it, the worse it can become, but opening up to an experienced and impartial adviser can be the first steps back up again.

Another theme we occasionally encounter is the embarrassment factor -s ome think that asking for financial or debt advice isn’t for them.

They have worked all their life, they have tried to be responsible – why would, or indeed should, they need to turn to a service like ours?

That is exactly what a cost-of-living crisis does – it affects everyone to one degree or another, and that suddenly brings a lot of people into our realm who perhaps would not be talking to us during the good times.

And for some, believing the good times will return is an important part of dealing with a current challenge.

But we cannot pretend that the situation we face now, with more worrying news coming down the tracks, is anything other than extremely serious.

For those who have had their Universal Credit payments reduced by £20 a week, life could become even more difficult.

And with the festive season approaching it becomes all the more intense.

Thanks to supply issues, Christmas is breathing down the necks of families more quickly than ever before.

We have toy shops warning the shelves will be bare by December, supermarkets saying there could be a turkey shortage, and even concerns over whether or not there will be enough Christmas trees to go around.

You cannot address the root problems with debt without recognising the pressure which families feel around the festive period.

A failure to provide presents, adequate decorations, or a decent Christmas meal is an uncomfortable thought for many.

Under-pressure families may now be forced to budget for that in autumn instead of December, and that is only going to make things worse.

But no situation is so bleak that it cannot be improved upon, and that will very much be the focus of our work in the coming months through the new moneyadvice.scot service.

There are always options – from informal negotiation with lenders, to structured plans which result in a debt-free existence.

The first challenge can be picking up the phone to seek these options out and accepting that it’s not a sign of weakness or surrender to do so.

For many of our service-users, it is the most positive move they have ever made.

It doesn’t seem like the cost-of-living crisis is going anywhere soon – but nor are the many ways with which to cope with it.

And that is exactly what organisations like Advice Direct Scotland are here to make clear.

Andrew Bartlett is chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland. You can access free, impartial advice on any topic from advice.scot by contacting 0808 800 9060 or by visiting www.advice.scot. Advice is available to everyone in Scotland, at no cost, regardless of personal circumstance.

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