CHURCHES are to act as a middle-man in fending off debt collectors.

The Christians Against Poverty charity will open two new debt counselling centres in Oxford and Witney in a bid to offset financial worries.

Volunteers will help people in debt to find a solution by visiting their homes and working out a payment plan while negotiating with finance companies.

Witney centre manager Andrew Kingston said: “If someone is sat in a bank being asked to give back the money then we can come along and tell the bank what kind of difficult situation they are in.

“We will identify that they are in real trouble and ask for them to be dealt with in a more reasonable way.

“With a bit of intervention the individual can get on with their lives knowing they can eventually lead a normal life again rather than being harrassed by people they owe money to.”

A branch is based in the Welcome Evangelical Church in Witney’s High Street.

Another centre is due to open in St Clement’s Church in Cross Street, Oxford, in July. Trained volunteers will visit people in debt at home and work out how much they can pay over a certain time period, prioritising debts such as rent and heating costs.

Mr Kingston, a former finance counsellor for students at Oxford University, said: “It’s a service that Christian people want to deliver to the whole community. There’s no constraints in terms of belief.

“The big difference that we offer compared to the likes of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and help websites is that we can go and see people in their own homes.

“We can give them an understanding of what their situation is and a plan on how to get out of it, including support to change their expenditure patterns.”

The Witney-based Oxfordshire West Food Bank last month reported a rise in the number of people using it since opening two years ago and this was one of the reasons Welcome Evangelical Church member Mr Kingston believes the centre is needed.

He said: “We knew from our own experience in the town and surrounding area that there are people who have found it very difficult financially.”

s For more information, call Mr Kingston at the centre on 07780161210.