Households with unstable income 'five times more likely to use high-cost credit'

Households with volatile incomes such as those on zero hours contracts or in part-time work are five times more likely to turn to high-cost credit to plug gaps in their finances, Citizens Advice has found.

One in 20 (5%) people with volatile incomes said they or an adult in their household had taken out a doorstep loan, a payday loan or used a rent-to-own scheme at some point to pay for essentials such as food, rent or other household bills.

This compares with 1% of adults generally who reported using these types of products, a survey of more than 2,100 people found.

In its report, Walking on Thin Ice, the charity warned squeezed household budgets are increasingly vulnerable to income shocks - with people in insecure work particularly at risk.

Citizens Advice said last year nearly half (48%) of UK adults experienced at least one monthly drop in their income.

One in five (21%) people with a volatile income said they went without food or other essentials to pay their bills last year.

And more than one in 10 (13%) UK adults said their income varied significantly from month to month - rising to nearly half (49%) for people who are self-employed or in insecure work.

Last year Citizens Advice helped more than 121,000 people with problems relating to high-cost consumer credit.

In one case, a woman who took out a doorstep loan ended up with an outstanding balance 18 months later which was triple the £300 she was initially lent, the charity said. This was due to further borrowing to cover her repayments and interest.

Citizens Advice Bureau (PA)

Citizens Advice is calling for the Financial Conduct Authority, which is already looking into the sector, to cap the total interest and charges customers have to pay back when they take out high-cost credit products like rent-to-own and doorstep credit.

Charge caps have previously been imposed by the regulator on payday loans.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Borrowing can help people manage their budgets, but evidence shows high-cost credit products can leave people trapped in unmanageable debt.

"Our research shows that people are turning to these products when their finances are already in a precarious position.

"Consumers should be protected to ensure they do not end up in a spiral of debt that has damaging knock-on effects.

"The Financial Conduct Authority should build on the success of the cap on payday lending by introducing a similar cap on other high-cost credit products that we know are causing serious harm to consumers."

A Financial Conduct Authority spokesman said: "We are pleased this report recognises the success of our intervention in the high-cost credit sector for consumers.

"We are currently looking at a number of high-cost credit sectors and will be publishing proposals for action in May.

"High-cost credit products and the way they are used can be very different, so we are developing tailored solutions to address the specific problems in each sector.

"We agree that more needs to be done to encourage the availability of alternatives to high-cost credit, and are committed to playing our part in making this happen."

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