Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Charity warns of 'lifetime debts'

The CAB report was based on people seeking advice in July

A typical householder seeking help has no realistic hope of paying off debts in their lifetime, according to Citizens Advice (CAB).

The charity said that people turning to advisers for assistance owed an average of 16,971 that would typically take them 93 years to pay off.

The most common reasons for debt were low incomes, over-commitment, illness or disability and job loss, it said.

A new alternative to bankruptcy comes into force in April.

Personal debt is out of control
Working Lunch's Gillian Lacey Solymar

These Debt Relief Orders are aimed at people with debts of less than 15,000 but without much surplus income or assets to their name.

The CAB said that a third of its debt cases would be eligible for the new relief, but called for fair treatment by lenders and creditors, as well as for more government schemes to help those in debt without them having to go to court.

Debt findings

The CAB report studied the finances of 1,407 people in England and Wales who visited the charity for help with debt problems in July 2008.

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
Individual voluntary arrangement (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
Debt Relief Orders: Planned for introduction in April 2009, these should allow consumers with debts of less than 15,000 and minimal assets or surplus income to write off debts without a full-blown bankruptcy

Similar studies were carried out in 2001 and 2004, and the charity claimed that the latest figures - published on Thursday - revealed a "deepening debt crisis".

The study found that the average CAB client with debt issues owed two-thirds more than seven years earlier.

More than half had debts on priority bills such as mortgage repayments, rent, fuel bills or council tax. One in 10 had more than 10 credit debts, such as plastic cards, overdrafts or personal loans.

"Low income, combined with irresponsible lending, unreasonable debt collection practices and badly-informed financial decisions are at the root of many of our clients' debt problems," said CAB chief executive David Harker.

"For many, there is little prospect of their income increasing or their circumstances changing. The reality is that they are condemned to a lifetime of poverty overshadowed by an inescapable burden of unpayable debt."

He added that the majority of these people were poorer than the average householder. With the data taken in July, he said that further job losses across the country since then were only adding to debt problems.

The findings suggested there were also distinct problems with housing cost, poverty caused by fuel and water bills, and growing numbers of householders with mortgage or secured loan arrears.

Insolvencies up

The latest figures from the Insolvency Service highlight the toll that has been taken on by companies by the rapid lurch into recession.

The latest figures showed the number of corporate insolvencies rose by 220% in the last three months of 2008, compared with the same period the year before.

But the number of individuals who were declared insolvent stood at 106,544 in England and Wales in 2008, which was roughly the same as in 2007.

A separate survey by credit reference agency Experian's CreditExpert service, published on Thursday, suggested that one in five people were keeping their money worries secret from their partners.

One in 10 of the 2,000 people asked said they had a secret bank account.

Insolvency graph

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific