Welcome to the website for the British Transport Police Federation

Financial webinar: New Year, New Start

19 January, 2022

British Transport
Police Federation
January 19, 2022

Financial webinar: New Year, New Start

This webinar focuses on financial support and how you can access affordable credit. Developed with Serve and Protect credit union, it highlights some of the findings from our recent financial resilience survey and offers some practical advice for Federation members.

Our General Secretary, Mark Marshallsay, is joined by Robert Lovesey from Serve and Protect credit union and Helen Handzel from StepChange debt charity.

Watch the webinar here:

Please click play icon above to watch video

If you would rather read a transcript of the discussion, that's available below.

Webinar transcript
I'm Mark Marshallsay, I'm the General Secretary for the British Transport Police Federation. During December of last year, we shared some of the results of the recent financial resilience survey we did with Serve and Protect Credit Union on our social media sites. These are tough times for everyone, especially financially, and especially at this time of year in the aftermath of Christmas, and that's no different for police officers.

The survey has helped us to get a better idea and understanding of our members' financial concerns which in turn helps us to provide you, our members, with the right support and guidance. Today's webinar is a starting point.

I'm joined by Robert Lovesey from Serve and Protect Credit Union and Helen Handzel from the charity StepChange. Robert is going to explain the survey results in more detail and both he and Helen will offer some practical advice on some of the concerns you have about your personal finances.

Robert, before we look at the survey can you just tell us a bit more about Serve and Protect as I understand it, it's a cooperative so it's run by your members for your members, is that right?

Robert Lovesey, Serve and Protect
That's correct Mark. Thanks for the welcome. So, the credit union Serve and Protect, we were formed in 2003 and we're really proud to serve the police family. We've got about 37,000 members and as you say we're owned by and run for our members, so our members save money, and that money is then lent to fellow colleagues who may need access to affordable credit. The beauty of the credit union is the fact that as we're not-for-profit, the money we make at the end of the year we reinvest it back into the credit union and pay a dividend back to our savers as well. So, people save to help their fellow colleagues borrow.

Now our passion really is about improving the financial resilience of those individuals that serve and protect the nation and we're trying to help educate people around saving and being ready for their long-term future financially so they can respond to sort of emergency or life events throughout their career. One of the things we did with your members at BTP was in July 2021 we did a financial resilience survey where we asked your members a series of questions, just to help understand their general financial resilience and the challenges they may have faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the stats highlight some real challenges that your members will be facing financially, and we've welcomed Helen from StepChange on the call today to talk about some of these trends we're seeing just to make people aware about responsible lending in the future, if they need to borrow money, where they can go responsibly and if they have existing debt and they can't afford that debt, what they can do to help their financial situation.

As a credit union a lot of the members we serve unfortunately are going to high interest creditors such as payday lenders or high interest credit cards and the message from today really is if you manage your money well you shouldn't ever have to go to a payday lender when you've got a credit union service available for you within the police. British Transport Police members can actually save and borrow straight from their pay, so it is a free employee benefit that's available to yourselves.

From our survey some of the headline stats that jumped out include 50% respondents actually took a pay cut when they joined British Transport Police, so they might have been feeling the pinch already from when they start their job. 60% said the coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on their household income. Officers and police staff, their jobs have been maintained and they're still working as normal, for probably more hours than ever throughout the pandemic but their other halves have been hit, they've lost that joint income that their households were seeing and that's really seen a lot of officers struggle. One in four actually said they would have to turn to credit or borrow money over the next 12 months if a financial emergency arose.

That's a really interesting stat and that's why we're doing this webinar today so if you're one of those one in four that may need to borrow in the future, you need to know where you can go to borrow responsibly but also if you've got existing credit and you're struggling with your money, I'm sure Helen's got some great insight from her work she does with StepChange to try and help support so Helen, I'll hand over to you to give a brief intro about your work.

Helen Handzel, StepChange
Great, thanks Robert, thanks Mark. I'm Helen, I come from StepChange debt charity. We are a national UK-wide debt advice charity offering free and confidential advice and I'm really here today to let you know that our service is here ready to welcome you if you want to talk about your finances. And most importantly to let you know that you're not alone so whether it's the fact that you're feeling the pinch now then you by no means are alone. There are people up and down the country feeling the pinch for all sorts of reasons and if you feel it's more serious and you're really struggling with unmanageable debt, no matter how big or small that is and no matter what type of debts you have, again you are not alone. We're here to help you.

We offer advice and solutions over the telephone or through our online advice tools so it's really a case of just choosing what's most appropriate for you, what you prefer. Do you want to talk to somebody about your situation? In which case give us a call. If you would rather do it more anonymously, 24/7, you have our online advice tool which is available through our website.

So hopefully that gives you a little bit of insight to start with and we can get into some more specifics as we go through the session.

Thank you both. I'm sure this is going to be really helpful and reassuring for our members more than anything. You're right Robert, we know of several members whose partners have lost their jobs during the COVID pandemic or been on the furlough scheme where although they're getting some of their weekly or monthly income it's at a reduced rate which obviously has a huge impact on their household income. The cost of living has dramatically increased in recent years which obviously creates a huge challenge in paying things like mortgage and rent especially when pay has remained static and we've had a very little increase in pay over the last few years.

There are so many adverts from lenders all around us and loans especially are readily available, but officers can find themselves paying over the odds or tied into payments for far longer than they expect. As a Federation we speak to new recruits about the support available from us, the Federation, and the Force and share information about this on our website and social media channels. We have a Welfare Fund, and we are trying to do more to make our members aware of this fund. It offers grants and loans to our members; grants are offered in situations where we don't expect to have the money paid back, so that really helps to cover some real severe hardship situations. The loans that we give out to people are interest-free, but they are expected to be paid back but again that does help alleviate some of the financial situations that members find themselves in. BTPs independent and confidential Employee Assistance Programme is also available for members.

These survey results prompted us to look at what more we can do to address the situations our members find themselves in around managing debt and what scenarios and situations to avoid, which is one of the reasons why we're chatting today. So, with that in mind Robert and Helen what more can you offer to support our members or even any further reading or information they can access in order to help themselves in these situations?

Yes Mark, from a credit union perspective I think my message to your members would be even though they may feel like they haven't got enough money to save, even by starting to save a small amount - the minimum savings with the credit union is £10 for example and comes straight from your pay - once you've started that savings habit you're building that pot. If there is an emergency, ideally, we want your members to have enough money saved to be able to respond. However, as a member of the credit union they then have an option if ever they do need to borrow money. I say an option because you know you can get some of the best rates around now with banks or building societies, but some people don't realise that actually those headline rates that you see advertised on TV, only 51% of members typically get those. So, the other 49%, where do they go or what rate do they get if banks won't lend to them or building societies won't lend? We don't want members to find themselves with no other options to turn to as they might then get a high interest credit card or go to a dreaded payday lender which we're seeing a lot of our members doing just through lack of awareness and not realising there is a credit union, a not-for-profit alternative available to them.

I'd also say, think about your behaviour and how you manage your money. A lot of our members that do come to us with existing debt that are being charged a really high interest rate. They may have been offered that rate because they may have potentially been gambling and even though they might see it as a small amount each week or each month, when they go to apply for credit and they think they can get those headline rates that are available, the responsible lenders say no so it reduces their options.

But also 50% of our loans are to debt consolidation. So, people come to us that have a lot of small debts and they actually say can I pay them all off and save money on my monthly loan repayment. We had an officer recently, for example, they were paying £600 a month on unsecured loans, spread across a small amount of loans. They paid them off with the credit union and it saved them £200 pounds a month on their monthly loan repayment. So even if you think you haven't got enough money you can actually save money by debt consolidation but as a credit union we won't lend to people if it's not affordable or, as I say we're responsible lenders, so if we do see high levels of gambling or if it's going to put people in more debt then we're not going to do that and that's where we have referrals to StepChange.

Just to just to expand on that, do you think that people are not aware of your organisation and think that their bad credit score may affect their application?

Yeah, a lot of people when they reach out, they have checked their credit profiles and they think actually I've got pretty bad credit I'm probably not going to qualify, and they make that assumption already. We actually say to our members, the best thing to do is be honest, you can pick up the phone, you can speak to any of our loan officers or member services team. Most people have a story related to why they're in the position they are and we're there to try and work with you to try and help find a solution. We can't help everyone, we said that we are responsible lenders, however we do encourage people to actually pick up the phone because that then starts the conversation so if we can't help, we have an internal referral mechanism to the likes of StepChange to try and help and give them the options and the support they need.

I'd much rather that for our members rather than not think about at all and as you say, go straight to one of these payday lenders where the rates of interest are extortionate, and it only makes the situation worse.

We've seen that, Mark. Also 'buy now, pay later' schemes. You'll see companies like Klarna when you go to buy things, particularly over the festive period, they give you the option to buy now pay for it later, 0% interest. Sounds great but actually what we're finding is a lot of our members are committing to lots of these different 'buy now, pay later' schemes and when it's you know £50 here £50 there it soon adds up and all it needs is something to change in your financial position. Like we said, your other half may lose their job or be furloughed as a result of the pandemic, and you can't make those repayments. If you start missing repayments that's where the interest rate really hikes up and people just find it really hard to manage their money.

Coming in from a debt advice perspective there's certainly a few things that you as individuals can look to do yourself that might help things. I know might sound straightforward but really the starting point is understanding what your circumstances are. We're always told to do a budget but very few of us actually do. Just spending some time either looking at your own circumstances or your household circumstances and just writing down what exactly does come into your household on a on a weekly or monthly basis, whatever you prefer to do. Make sure you're including everything, partners income, any board that you might receive, benefits, tax credits, what does that figure look like?

Then spend some time and go through in a lot of detail to try and work out what is your expenditure, what are the areas that you can't really do much about so those essential household items like your housing, your council tax, your utilities? Then moving on to look at your other household expenditure. What could possibly be cut back, what would you be willing to get rid of or reduce? It's important not to cut too much back because then it just becomes an unrealistic and unsustainable budget, we've got to live and where the money allows, have something to look forward to and some nice things. Look at it from your point of view. What would you be happy to sacrifice, where could you make some cutbacks, where could you make some changes, where do you maybe need to focus some attention on? What's really important to you? If it's if money allows, having a holiday every year, see what you can look to budget for each month.

When you've done all that then also look at your other financial commitments such as your borrowing, so things like your credit cards - that's generally the most common form of borrowing - overdrafts, loans, all the other types that we have mentioned such as store cards and just really be comfortable that you know what that amount is. Again, that could be quite a daunting thing to do but that just gives you an idea of where you're at. If all that sounds too much to do - and for some people it is and there's nothing wrong with that - then again that's where we can help because we can either go through our online tool or by talking to one of our advisors we can guide you through that process and help you create that budget and that list of creditors.

That really very much is the starting point, understanding where your income's at, where your expenditure is at and also not underplaying the big changes that are happening to all of our households over the next few months.

Come April we've got the health and social care levy that's going to come into play. From this April, once the personal tax-free allowance has risen that will not be rising for another four years so it's bearing that in mind. We'll all have felt the pinch with the cost of public transport and the huge hike that we've seen in petrol and diesel prices. We've got inflation just generally rising, we've got interest rates now looking to gradually increase and also just the general cost of living, the price of food at the supermarket, all this is having a big impact on us so. It's no wonder we're all feeling the pinch because when wages are not rising in line with the cost of living there is less money to go around. Back to what I said earlier, remember you will not be alone if you're feeling like you're struggling. It's happening up and down the country.

I think an important point as well, Mark, is both with StepChange and the credit union we're completely confidential and we've got people you can speak to. A lot of police officers maybe don't speak openly about their financial position, understandably because the nature of their roles but there are people out there like ourselves, like Helen, that are able to help, have a conversation and point you in the right direction and maybe get the support you're looking for.

I think that that is an important point you make, Robert. You are confidential, you are completely independent, both organisations, of BTP and the Federation come to that. Police officers in their nature are suspicious people so they do find it hard to talk about these things and approach organisations because it may well have a negative effect on their job. I think it's important to reinforce the fact that you are completely independent and confidential.

Another thing I'll emphasise is the fact that if you're listening to this webinar and you've got great financial resilience and you're in a really good financial position, don't make the assumption that each of your colleagues are in the same boat because that's one of the biggest dangers people can make, especially key influencers within the police. They assume this is the case with their colleagues and the stats are out there. I think one in four people lose sleep worrying about their finances so all you need to do is look around and realise that, okay you might be in a good financial situation, but don't just assume everyone else is because we can see from the responses to our survey that really isn't the case.

Having these conversations, learning about StepChange, the credit union, the welfare support you can get via the Federation, it's just raising that awareness and being able to talk about it. You might not need it but do spread the word to your fellow colleagues because it really is an important message.

I couldn't agree more, especially the first step of talking about it. Asking for help I think is the hardest bit and then hopefully once we get over that hurdle things will start to fall into place for people.

I think just picking up on one of those points around the fact they're not alone and that they can speak to us confidentially. One really appealing routine is to go via our online system so sometimes people prefer to talk and that's great and we have that offering but some people are naturally more reluctant to talk about this topic. As a nation we do not talk about money, it's one of the last taboos. We don't generally know what our best friend earns, we keep it all very hush-hush so don't forget that online route that we have. It's a completely automated route, you go to our website, you start the process, you just enter all your details about your circumstances without the need to talk to anybody and in the background it's reading all the information and then presents you with options going forward in terms of debt solutions. There is the option of web chats, and you can also switch to the phone if you prefer but if you want to remain anonymous it's a great way of getting that debt advice and of course it's available 24/7.

That's good to know. I don't know if you know this from other webinars with other forces, but it is actually a disciplinary offence for an officer to be in debt and be in receipt of CCJs so again, all this confidentiality and independence is so important with regards to that. And if we can get people help before they get to that stage, I think that's vitally important

It is and coming to us you're not signing up to anything, you're not committing to taking on a certain debt solution, you can go through the process, get the advice, know what your options are and then you can go away and think about it. When you're ready to take the next step you can then come back to us, and we can get put in place whatever the best way forward will be.

Brilliant. Well thanks very much to both of you. I think the key point from today is that there is always help available for our members. Clearly, getting into good financial habits is hugely helpful but as we know and I think it was you that said it earlier, Robert, life happens. Costs come out of the blue and circumstances can change overnight. Money is such a private thing for each individual and it's wrapped up in all sorts of emotions from pride to embarrassment, but no problem is insurmountable.

We've discussed that help is at hand and importantly I think members know now that there's at least three organisations that they can go to. Yourself, Robert, at Serve and Protect and Helen at StepChange and the Federation, where they can come for financial help, guidance, and advice.

I think I'll finish by saying that links to some of the resources are available in the comments and this will be made available on our website and I'm sure through your channels as well. I just want to say thank you and thanks to those who will eventually watch this webinar. I hope you find it to be useful.