Debt problems surging to record levels, says charity

A charity has dealt with a record number of cries for help from people struggling with debt during the first half of 2016.

More than 300,000 people sought advice from StepChange Debt Charity between January and June, marking the highest half-year figure it has ever seen in records going back to 2011.

A total of 313,679 people contacted the charity during the first half of this year. Those in unmanageable debt owe an average of £13,826 each, with credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans the most common source of problems.

The charity said its data suggests those affected by unmanageable debt are becoming increasingly likely to be younger, working part-time and renting their home.

Nearly one in five (19%) of the charity's clients are now part-time workers, up from 16% in 2011. The charity has warned that zero hours, part-time and temporary contracts are contributing to people's financial vulnerability, with volatile incomes making it hard cope with sudden, unexpected expenses.

About 59% of the charity's clients are aged under 40, up from 51% in 2015.

The charity said rapid rent rises, outpacing the growth in wages, have also left people struggling. About 77% of its clients are renters, up from 55% in 2011.

Nearly one in four (24%) of the charity's clients who rent are in arrears, increasing from 15% in 2011 - and the average level of rent arrears now stands at £954, up from £769 five years ago.

The findings come at a time when the cost of borrowing is relatively cheap, with the Bank of England base rate recently having been trimmed to 0.25%.

Mike O'Connor, chief executive of StepChange, said: "These figures paint a worrying picture of the reality of problem debt across the UK."

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