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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
'Significant' rise in debt woes
Debt signpost
Demand for debt advice is rising
The number of Britons having debt problems has "risen significantly", Citizens Advice has said.

The charity, which runs a chain of advice centres, said the number of people asking for help with debt rose by 35,000 in the past year to 706,000.

Citizens Advice blamed irresponsible lending for the rise and said UK credit laws must be changed urgently.

However, a banking body said that the charity was "stereotyping" lenders and that law changes should not be rushed.

'Crisis levels'

In July, UK personal debt topped the 1 trillion mark for the first time.

The idea that greedy lenders are taking advantage of consumers is stereotypical and monochrome
Eric Leenders, British Bankers' Association

Despite low interest rates and high employment levels, Citizens Advice has been warning for the past few years that more people are having problems repaying their debts.

"The problem of personal debt is reaching crisis levels," said David Harker, Citizens Advice chief executive.

"The fact that the number of consumer debt problems brought to us has risen significantly yet again underlines this warning."

The government has been reviewing the 30-year-old Consumer Credit Act with the aim of making credit dealings more transparent.

Any major changes to the Act require fresh legislation to be brought before Parliament.

Plans to introduce such legislation may be announced in the Queens speech on 23 November.

Mr Harker said that the case for urgent reform of the Act was clear.

"Reform of Britain's outdated consumer credit laws must be included in the Queen's Speech," he said.

Care over reform

But the British Bankers' Association (BBA) reacted angrily to charges of irresponsible lending and warned that new credit laws should not be rushed through.

"The vast majority of lenders and borrowers act responsibly," Eric Leenders, BBA spokesman, told BBC News Online.

"The idea that greedy lenders are taking advantage of consumers is stereotypical and monochrome."

"As for reforming the Act, if we rush and get it wrong it may be many years before parliamentary time can be found to put things right."

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