My husband has always been secretive about money. I don’t think he meant to be, it’s just men of that generation – they think providing an income is just their concern. Years ago when he was made redundant from a very senior position, he told me he had chosen to set up on his own. I think he was trying to protect me. I had no idea we were short of money – I was going off on safari trips to Africa, for heaven’s sake. I never would have done things like that if I’d have known.
The truth was we actually got deeper and deeper into debt. And then one day he said, ‘You’ll have to go out to work’! It was quite a shock but I actually found a lovely job working in a GP’s surgery and I was very happy there until we both retired.
We moved to the countryside, to a small place in sheltered accommodation. Downsizing they call it, it’s a way of freeing up some money to live on in your retirement years. I still didn’t know too much about our financial arrangements, and I now realise what a mistake that was.
My husband had a series of strokes quite out of the blue. They effectively killed the two frontal lobes of his brain. This has really affected his memory. He just can’t remember immediate things. He can remember some longer term things, but you can’t always predict what he will remember and what he won’t. He is still having TIAs – they’re a kind of mini stroke, which I think may be worsening his condition.
He is still very much the person he was, but he has lost his independence. I am effectively his carer. I get very little time on my own now. The other thing that has changed is that I am having to take charge of all our financial arrangements. I knew that our electricity bill would be high as we don’t have gas. I’ve been doing my best, but we need to keep the place warm because my husband doesn’t move around much these days so he feels the cold. But when I got an electricity bill for over £3,000 my heart just sank. But I thought, ‘Well Valerie, you’ll just have to pay it.’ So I withdrew it from what was left of our savings and wrote a cheque to the electricity company. I was worried though, about how long we could go on managing with bills of that magnitude.
Then a very fortuitous thing happened. I did my Christmas cards as usual and I included a round-robin letter updating everyone on the events in our lives. I mentioned the bill in a jokey way, but thought very little about it. But my Christmas card list is quite long, it includes friends I haven’t seen since the 1960s, including a colleague of my husband’s from 1965. He still works as a chartered accountant so was aware of CABA. He sent me their details suggesting that I told them about my bill.
A very nice young man at CABA explained that he would arrange for a CABA volunteer to come and see me. The volunteer sat with me for a few hours and I explained the situation and handed across the bills to him. And then the letter writing commenced! He wrote letters on my behalf and really knocked some sense into the electricity company! He stood for no nonsense and eventually they admitted they had got things wrong. I’ve had a refund of £1,300 and compensation of a further £350. And they’ve fitted a new meter. I’ll be very interested to see if this has an impact on my next bill.
I tell you, knowing about CABA has certainly made me feel more secure. As I feel my way through this next phase of our lives, knowing that there is a group of experts ready to fight my corner will be a big help. I understand there are also things they can do to support carers too. So I may well talk to them again soon.
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*Some personal details of this client have been changed to protect their identity