As children across Northern Ireland return to school this week, Debt Action NI, which is part of Advice NI, is urging people to seek advice as many struggle to cope with the additional costs of summer holidays.  Debt Action NI, the money and debt service, reports that with Northern Ireland having longer summer holidays than England and Wales, families here are hit harder.

Gemma Willis from Debt Action NI says that this can be a very difficult time for many,

Those most vulnerable or low income families find the summer holidays a stressful time and can lead to those getting into debt to manage children’s expectations and the sheer cost of having extra mouths to feed for two months.  A report recently published by Morrison’s stated the average debt accrued throughout the summer holidays could reach up to as much £500 per household1. Meanwhile as children go back to school, the added cost of school uniforms lead to further financial strain. According to an American Express report the average school uniform cost in Northern Ireland is £202 per child and is £25 higher than the UK average of £177.30. It’s no wonder families struggle to make ends meet.” 

The advice charity, which has helped 16,000 clients deal with £225 million of debt since August 2012, says the actual cost of summer really adds up when increased grocery bills, childcare costs and entertainment including days out put a strain on the family purse.  Those entitled to free school meals or low cost breakfast clubs run by schools are turning to foodbanks or borrowing money – some who are unable to access main stream credit have to resort to high interest credit such as payday loans or door step loans, running up overdrafts or borrowing from friends and family.  

Working parents are also hugely affected over the summer months with increased childcare and food costs.  A report recently published by Kellogg’s stated that 1/3 of parents skipped a meal so that their child could eat during the school holidays.2 

David McAuley, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, which runs 18 foodbanks across Northern Ireland said:

“Nearly 400,000 children were given 3 days emergency food by a Trussell Trust foodbank between April 2014 and March 2015, up 70,000 from the year before. As we enter the school holiday period it is a particularly tough time for families and single parents. Many of the people with children we meet in foodbanks face additional pressures ranging from disability, mental health issues, family tragedy and domestic violence. Trussell Trust is working in partnership with Advice NI and others to try to support and ultimately prevent people from reaching crisis point.”

Statistics released in 2014/2015 by the Department of Education highlighted that 97,517 children were in receipt of free school meals.4    Parents of those children who are on benefits or on extremely low incomes already struggling financially will really feel the pressure at this time of year as they have been faced with finding extra money for meals children would have received in school for free.  

Gemma Willis, Debt Action NI Project Manager concluded:

“We urge families struggling to cope with mounting financial strains over the summer months to seek advice.  We can offer free & confidential debt advice, speak to your creditors and try to negotiate lower payments where appropriate.  We advise everyone not to use high interest lenders, to have a benefit entitlement check carried out to ensure you are in receipt of all of the support you are entitled to. We can also make referrals to local foodbanks where necessary.”

If you are struggling with debt you don’t have to face it alone. You can contact Debt Action NI by calling the Freephone helpline on 0800 917 4607 to speak directly to an adviser between 8am and 9pm Monday – Friday, and 9am -3pm on a Saturday or you can text the word “Action” to 81025 and an adviser will call you back. You can browse the dedicated website,, where you can chat to a virtual adviser or use an online budgeting tool. You can also find a list of the contact details and location of advisers in your local area on the website.



For further information contact Barry Turley on 07734 256318

Notes to Editors:

1.         For further information contact  Gemma Willis, Debt Action NI project manager, 1 Rushfield Avenue, Belfast BT7 3FP  Tel: (028) 9064 5919

2.         Advice NI is the umbrella body for the independent advice network in Northern Ireland and has approximately 65 members across NI who provide advice on debt, benefits, housing to name a few. Advice NI members deal with almost 250,000 enquiries per year, with the majority being social security benefits and debt related.

3.         Advice NI has been delivering the DETI funded Debt Action NI project & since August 2012 we have helped over 16,000 clients deal with £225million of debt.

4.         If you would like to find out more visit our websites or www.debtaction