The Festive season is over and as 12th night approaches it is time to pack away the Christmas decorations for another year.
Thoughts are now turning to paying for all the festive fun, food and gifts. Many people are using credit cards and borrowing money to help with the cost and with household bills. Its January, the weather is cold and bills are higher and it’s a lean time of year for businesses too.
The Money Advice Trust, a debt charity, has already issued advice urging low income families to start saving now for next Christmas, reflecting the growing concern over the rising tide of household debt, which has increased by 7% since 2012. In some areas of the country, it is reported that 20% of residents have debt problems. Even though unemployment has fallen debt levels continue to rise.
Figures for individual debt, according to the Bank of England, stand at around £1.5 trillion. Debt can become a vicious cycle. Once people are in debt, often because they may have lost their job or become sick or have family and relationship problems, it can be difficult to break out.
Jobs are no longer protection against debt. Debt charities report an increasing number of people contacting them and a growing number under the age of 40 contacting them. For younger people, it can be more difficult as many of them rent and rents are going up more than wages. Also, they tend to be in less well paid and less secure jobs.
Over the last five years those contacting debt charities has climbed by two thirds. Although there is help for those people who are struggling with debt this alone is not a solution.
There needs to be more support for people on lower incomes, according to one debt advice agency. They went on to say that “we need more people saving money and more help with loans. The government subsidises cash ISAs and we need responsible lending and to ensure people get the help they need when problems arise. Money and debt advice centres are struggling to keep up with the demand for debt advice with some people having to wait over two weeks for face to face advice in some parts of the country.
Debt is affecting not just low earners but a much broader group of people. Debt advice companies are now seeing not just low earners in unskilled jobs but many in ‘good’ jobs like management, teachers and police forces etc. falling into debt. With job restructuring, low wage rises and the increasing cost of living many people are being driven to the point where they are just managing and on the tipping point of acquiring debt levels that are unmanageable.
People feel embarrassed about asking for help, especially those in better jobs. There has been criticism that they are living beyond their means in the first place but the reality is it only takes a small change in financial circumstances to push people into debt. Once caught in a spiral it can be difficult to get out. Many people delay getting advice as they feel there is a stigma attached but it is rarely a case of people spending irresponsibly, more a question of circumstances, when things change and emergencies happen. The effect of problem debt can be devastating. Stress levels increase and can have a detrimental effect on mental health and in turn causing other problems for family relationships and work prospects.
Some debt advice centres across the country have reported the problem is getting worse. “I think this is really going to hit the middles classes in the next five years or so. People think debt is bad now but I can only see it accelerating,” said one.
The Country is sinking deeper into red borrowing on loans overdrafts, credit cars and car finance and has accelerated since 2011. The overall debt which now stands at £1.5 trillion, including mortgages, equates to an average of £28,000 for everyone over the age of 16 in the UK and in the next two years this debt is expected to reach £2 trillion. It has also been reported that at least a quarter of adults with common credit products such as mortgages, bank loans and car loans could find it difficult to repay their debt if interest rates were to rise above one percentage point.
The number of individuals applying for insolvency jumped to the highest level in almost three years in the first three months of 2017, in a further sign of the mounting financial pressure facing UK households.
Personal insolvencies in England and Wales totalled 24,531 between January and March, up 6.7% on the previous quarter and 15.7% higher than the same period a year earlier. It was the highest number of individual cases since the second quarter of 2014, according to the Insolvency Service, which published the figures.
Joanna Elson, the chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said the insolvency figures were concerning.
“Growing levels of household debt and extra pressure on budgets from inflation are a worry, and we expect this to translate into greater demand for free debt advice over the rest of 2017,” she said.
“We would urge anyone who is already struggling with their finances, or is concerned that they are only one bill away from falling behind, to seek free advice as early as possible.”
At 59%, individual voluntary arrangements accounted for the majority of personal insolvencies in the first quarter, while debt relief orders made up a further 25% and bankruptcies accounted for 16%.