How the most vulnerable can help themselves out of debt

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Unpaid bills

Almost one in five of us are struggling with serious debt. Yet many aren't doing anything to fix the problem.

Nine million people in the UK are living with serious debt problems. Those people are said to be burdened by debt and trapped in a spiral that they're finding it impossible to get out of. But are they taking steps to improve their situation?

Evidence from the Money Advice Service (MAS) would suggest no. A new MAS report says that very few people who consider themselves to be in 'serious' financial issues are making any attempt to get professional help.

The MAS (which is backed by the Government) identified that 18% of Brits (that's around 8.8 million people) are crippled by debt. MAS says that there's a clear answer to these people's problems. Chief executive, Caroline Rookes, said: "Millions of people could escape their spiral of debt by accessing free debt help."

"We know it transforms lives and the sooner people access it, the better – to take steps to improve their life for good," she said.

Debt affects national wellbeing

The report is based on a survey that found that 74% of people said being in debt causes them to be 'unhappy'. We know that debt and mental health are linked so the MAS findings don't come as a surprise to us.

According to the report, Hull, Nottingham, Manchester, Knowsley and Liverpool are the worst affected UK areas, where 40% of local residents are in serious debt. Sadly for these people debt appears to be becoming a way of life.

Coastal towns hit hard

The MAS research comes on the back of news that coastal towns have also been hit hard by the decline in the economy over the past few years. Accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy said personal bankruptcies in seaside resorts are almost double the national average.

The unusually high proportion of insolvencies in coastal towns has been attributed to an elderly population, a demographic group who've been badly affected by the rising cost of living. We know from Age UK research that the elderly are also more reluctant to get debt advice.

We also know that 40% of our clients wait over a year before seeking help, and if the people struggling with debt in coastal towns came to us sooner, the solution could be something other than bankruptcy.

What to do if you're in debt - StepChange

So why don't these people seek help? The answer could be that they simply do not know where to turn or are perhaps unwilling to get outside help. Last year alone we helped over 410,000 people overcome their debt problems. But according to MAS four out of five people in need of debt help aren't getting the advice they need.

Whether you haven't been able to make your full debt payments in months or you're just worried you're not denting the balance, we can offer the help you need. Start by following our top tips for dealing with debt.
  1. Don't panic! Simply by facing your debt problem you've taken the hardest step. Now you can start to improve your situation.
  2. Draw up a budget – taking stock of your position is the first step in managing your situation. We can offer expert advice on how to make a budget or our free, confidential online tool StepChange Debt Remedy will build one for you.
  3. Speak to your creditors – it can be nerve-racking, but remember creditors are just businesses. They want their money but you should only be paying them what you can afford. By telling them you're seeking help from us they should be more willing to help you.
  4. Get a debt solution – there are many debt solutions available to help you. Don't fall into a debt trap; our 60 second debt check will tell you in seconds if you have a debt problem and give clear advice on what to do next.

The MAS report offers an alarming insight into the sheer scale of problem debt in the UK. It also highlights the void that exists between the people who need debt help and those who actually seek it.

StepChange is here to help

We want to make sure truly free debt advice is available to anyone who needs it. That's why we offer our free Helpline (0800 138 1111) but also a confidential online debt advice tool, StepChange Debt Remedy, that can be used anytime day or night.