Record number of Brits seeking debt advice, leading charity says

A record number of people have contacted StepChange for help with their debts this year, the UK’s largest debt advice charity has revealed.

New statistics published today show that 331,337 individuals got in touch with StepChange for help managing debts in the first six months of 2019.

The mid-year figures found that of the 190,484 new StepChange clients who received full debt advice, the average level of unsecured personal debt was £13,799 – a rise of 2% on the previous six months and up 6% since 2016.

Around a third of these new clients’ outgoings were more than their incomes, with the average monthly shortfall for clients with deficit budgets an “alarming” £365, the charity said.

The data also revealed that unexpected life events made up the three biggest causes of problem debt, with those experiencing a reduction in income (18%), injury or illness (16%) or unemployment or redundancy (16%), representing half of all new clients.

The charity warned that a growing number of households were “struggling to keep their heads above water” and were vulnerable to future economic turbulence, and urged the government to prioritise preventing household debt in the upcoming Queen’s Speech.

StepChange CEO Phil Andrew said: “These statistics provide a sobering assessment of the scale of problem debt in this country. Across the board we are seeing red flags, including worrying proportions of new clients falling into debt due to reduced income, illness or because they rely on credit to pay for day-to-day living expenses.

“These figures must act as a wake-up call to the government, who have a real opportunity to tackle some of the drivers of debt in the upcoming Queen’s Speech and beyond,” he argued. “By taking concerted action to curb unlawful bailiff behaviour and waking up to the impact the five-week wait for Universal Credit is having on those who have experienced a sudden drop in income, it can go some way to stemming the rising tide of those in problem debt.”

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