HELLO, I hope you can help me - my family is in a difficult situation. My husband has had time off work due to illness and not been paid correctly, we are in rent arrears and owe Council Tax. We are struggling to afford basics like food and worry that things will get worse.”

Every telephone call made to Bradford-based Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is different, but they all have the same, strong thread running through them: desperation, hopelessness and despair. It is not yet 10am and the five-strong team has already spoken to more than 20 callers.

“People ring facing difficulties like this all the time,” says Grace, a member of the small team who take new calls to the service. “When someone calls you really feel for them and want to try to improve their situation. We understand what they are going through. Often, at the end of the calls, people say they feel so much less anxious.”

Founded in 1996 by John Kirkby, who started the service from his Bradford bedroom, CAP is a Christian charity specialising in debt counselling for people in financial difficulty, including those in need of insolvency.

Specialist sections take the process step-by-step, from the initial telephone call, and subsequent visit to meet and speak with the caller, to dissecting and arranging finances with the aim of being debt-free. Others can be assisted by budgeting courses or referred to specialist agencies. There is no minimum or maximum debt required to seek help.

Last year CAP’s Bradford offices took 31,743 helpline calls and saw 2,575 people go debt free, coming to the end of a path which can take several years of repayment.

Says CAP spokesperson Marianne Clough. “People who come to us have generally been trying to fathom out how to solve their issues for around three years. That involves a lot of cutting back, with pressure on relationships, mental and physical stress. Surrounding their debt problems are issues with housing, employment, ill health, bereavement, and possibly abuse such as violent relationships. When any of these collide, it is usually finances that suffer.”

She adds: “I think people are understanding more about poverty in this country, with films like ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and Philip Alston’s hard-hitting report on poverty in the UK.”

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ended a fact-finding mission to the UK with a stinging declaration on the appalling levels of poverty in the world’s fifth largest economy. A report published by CAP last year found that, in 2017, clients’ priority debts included Council Tax arrears (39 per cent), water bills (31 per cent), benefit overpayments (15 per cent) and energy arrears (15 per cent).

Debt can be debilitating - around 37 per cent of households were afraid to leave their home before CAP’s help and 73 per cent said that debt made them ill.

Across the UK CAP has 300 centres, its staff all linked to churches local to each centre. “Christianity is at the heart of what we do,” says Marianne.

The average annual household income of CAP clients is around £15,000. Says Marianne: “If people go ahead,we gather all their bills and letters - often a bin bag full, and go through them. We bring order to the situation, which is a powerful thing. Then we explain what we know and what the options might be.”

Solutions are, she says “fair to both the creditor and client”, adding “We have a good relationship with credit card companies, banks and debt collection agencies.”

The charity - which is funded through “an army of regular givers” - now helps people from centres in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Plans are afoot to extend to the USA.

John Kirkby, who lives in Shipley, last year received a CBE. He accepted the commendation on behalf of everyone who helped launch and sustain the charity, which now helps 23,000 people a year.

Josh Hart has worked for CAP for two years, listening to those in need of help. “It can be challenging. On occasion I have had callers who are contemplating suicide. As you talk you can hear relief in people’s voices through hearing that there is a solution. Just making an appointment makes a difference in how they feel.”

Specialist teams address court action being taken against clients and converted school houses teams dealing with insolvency and debt relief.

CAP insolvency manager Mark Cowley says: “There are different ways of dealing with debt. We give clients the full picture and keep them informed. It is a relief to people - it offers a fresh start.”

l capuk.org; new enquiries helpline 0800 328 0006.