‘I want my money back’
Gemma Leary, aged 22, signed up with Harrington Brooks on the promise it would pay her debts and keep Sheffield Homes and Vodafone off her back.
But eight months later both organisations say they haven’t heard from the company, although Harrington Brooks boss Matthew Cheetham insists all payments have been made according to plan.
Gemma, of Holbrook Road, Woodthorpe, said: “I couldn’t find out what I owed. Harrington Brooks said, ‘we don’t do statements’.
“So I contacted Sheffield Homes and they said they’d never heard of the company.
“It took me a month to speak to the manager at Harrington Brooks and she said I wasn’t entitled to a refund. I was left crying my eyes out.
“I was on Jobseekers when I signed up.
“I felt I couldn’t pay my debts and my creditors would send the bailiffs.”
Gemma, lives with partner Paul Hearson, and their sons Paul, aged three, and Connor, two.
She now claims child benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit. Paul works in a supermarket.
She says she racked up £400 in rent arrears after her housing benefit was delayed.
But Gemma was unaware of the debt until after an appeal period had expired because they had moved house, she said.
She also owed Vodafone £180 for a smartphone contract she was unable to afford.
Gemma said she paid Harrington Brooks a £295 set-up fee and then £18.80 a week for two months.
She added: “They were so keen to sign us up they sent a courier to collect the contract the day we signed it. We felt really pressured.
“They rang me out of the blue originally and it all sounded so wonderful. I thought I’d be out of debt by Christmas.”
HARRINGTON Brooks boss Matthew Cheetham said there was a clear dispute over whether payments had been made.
He added: “The account is operating in order and all distributions have been made to creditors. We are entirely in the right.”
Statements were available on line or on paper if requested. The firm had struck deals with 80 per cent of creditors to handle correspondence and freeze interest and charges.
“We are a commercial business and we like to think we provide a good service.”
Maxine Stavrianakos, head of income management at Sheffield Homes, said they had never received payments or had contact with Harrington Brooks.
Vodafone said: “No payment has been received from this firm. We would be happy to set up a payment plan with Gemma.”