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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 17:11 GMT
More people seeking help on debt
A purse
Debt difficulties: People ignore problems at their peril
A free debt helpline has received a big increase in inquiries during the Christmas period.

The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) said calls in December were up by 77% on the same month in 2003.

The Leeds-based charity is funded by creditors returning a percentage of the money repaid to them, through debt management plans.

A spokesman said it was optimistic that the increase meant people were taking action on debt sooner.

CCCS said it had received more than 1,000 calls on 4 January, the first working day after the Christmas and New Year break, the most calls it has received in one day.

Debt counsellors say the pressure of Christmas and the wide availability of credit are partly to blame for the upsurge.

Debt binge

The amount of money owed by UK consumers broke through the symbolic 1 trillion level in July.

National Debtline: A free, confidential and independent service funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and the credit industry. Tel: 0808 808 4000
Business Debtline: Provides a free telephone debt counselling service for self-employed and small businesses, funded by banks. Tel: 0800 197 6026
Consumer Credit Counselling Service: Funded entirely by the credit industry, the service offers advice to people in debt. Tel: 0800 138 1111
Citizens Advice: Offers free, independent and confidential advice from more than 700 locations throughout the UK. Tel: 0207 833 2181

UK household debt is rising at a faster rate than in the US and most major European countries.

A recent survey estimated that more than a third of Britons would spend more than their budget this Christmas.

The upsurge in people contacting the debt helpline during Christmas followed a steady increase of people seeking debt help throughout 2004.

The CCCS said calls were up by 40% during the year.

Ignoring risk

One major problem is that many people choose to ignore their debt problems.

According to a previous study, half of people affected with problem debts wait for more than a year before they can face dealing with it.

By then, they can find themselves in a far worse position and find it difficult to negotiate with creditors.

Debt counsellors are advising people to seek help early, prioritise their debts and not to take out more credit to pay off existing debts.

"We are choosing to interpret these figures optimistically. That people are getting the message that they should seek help as soon as possible," said Frances Walker, a spokesman for CCCS.

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