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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 22:34 GMT
Financial stress 'worst in north'
By Julian Knight
Personal finance reporter, BBC News

Despairing woman
Experian looked at levels of financial stress
People in Manchester and Glasgow feel under more financial pressure than other Britons, research from credit reference agency Experian has found.

Nearly three out of 10 people in Manchester and Glasgow say they suffer from high levels of financial stress.

The research, commissioned for the BBC, also revealed that the south-west of England is the UK's bankruptcy hotspot.

Six out of the 10 towns in the UK recording the highest level of bankruptcy per head are based there.

Debt profile

Experian built a debt profile of the UK for the BBC.

They looked at more than 300 UK towns and boroughs to see which parts were struggling the most with debt.

I think it is a growing problem nationwide; people not working out a budget and living within it
Liz McVey, Consumer Credit Counselling Service

In particular they charted the prevalence of bankruptcies, Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) and people feeling stressed by their finances.

Some of Experian's data underlines yet again the UK's north-south economic divide.

For example, out of the ten locations containing the highest percentage of people defined as affluent all are in London and the South East.

At the other end of the scale, out of the locations with the highest percentage of people defined as living on the breadline most were in the Midlands, north of England and Scotland.

Likewise, people in the big cities of Manchester and Glasgow suffer the most from financial stress.

In other words, people in these locations are most likely to perceive themselves as finding it hard to make ends meet.

Stress signs
MOST FINANCIALLY STRESSED LOCATIONS IN UK
Manchester
Glasgow
Nottingham
Knowsley, Merseyside
Middlesbrough
Hull
Liverpool
Source: Experian

Liz McVey, the manager of the Glasgow office of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, told BBC News she had seen signs of growing financial stress.

"We have doubled the number of counsellors in the past year, just to cope with the demand from people in debt difficulty.

"There are a number of factors at play. Younger people are stretched to the limit, due to trying to afford a new home. In addition, homeowners have been increasingly taking out second mortgages in order to pay back credit card and loan debt," she said.

"What they are finding is the interest rates on these second mortgages are quite high and as they get into difficulty, they find that credit becomes even more expensive.

"However, I would not single out Glasgow. I think it is a growing problem nationwide; people not working out a budget and living within it," Ms McVey added.

But when it comes to levels of bankruptcies and IVAs, the north-south divide becomes blurred.

For example, bankruptcies are particularly prevalent in the South West of England.

Sole traders

The seaside town of Torquay has the highest proportion of bankruptcies per head in the UK, closely followed by Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Barnstaple, Weymouth and Truro.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I warn all people who aren't in debt to never be tempted by it as it will ruin your life for a long time
Steven, Southampton

In addition, three of the five counties with the highest level of bankruptcies were in the South West.

But according to business leaders in the South West, this can be partly explained by the nature of the local economy.

"We have a higher proportion of sole traders down here - they have a greater tendency to come and go," Nigel Hutchings, chief executive of the South West chamber of commerce, told BBC News.

"In addition, towns like Torquay are very seasonal. They have to make enough money in the summer months to last throughout the year.

"Overall, the South West economy is doing well, although there are always areas of deprivation," Mr Hutchings added.

As for IVAs, these have the highest prevalence in towns along the M4 corridor.

Aldershot in Hampshire has the highest rate of IVAs per head in the country.

Controversy

IVAs have recently become mired in controversy.

HOW TO GO BUST
Bankruptcy: the traditional way of escaping overwhelming debt. Ends after one year, but you are likely to lose all your assets, including your house, to pay something to the creditors
IVA: A deal between you and your creditors, overseen by an insolvency practitioner. Less stigma, less chance of losing your home, but involves paying some of your debts in one go or over a number of years

Under IVAs, the debtor - normally through an intermediary - comes to an arrangement with creditors to pay back part of what is owed.

Debtors do not lose their homes, as can happen under bankruptcy. But they can find that they have to live to a very tight budget until their debts are repaid, while their credit record is also damaged.

Lenders have argued that IVAs are becoming too common, with a whole multi-million pound IVA management industry springing up, spending large amounts of money on TV advertising.

The Office of Fair Trading is currently examining how IVA management firms advertise for clients.

The most recent set of government insolvency figures suggests that the rate of increase in the numbers of people going bust is largely due to people taking out IVAs.


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