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Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Portsmouth Citizens Advice Bureau counts cost of debt
Credit cards
Debts run up on credit cards can become unmanageable

According to money advisor Donna Sears, the Portsmouth Citizens Advice Bureau is often the last resort for many locals.

Since 2007 the CAB team in Portsmouth has helped people with debt totalling over £12 million.

During the economic slowdown, staff have seen unemployment result in people losing control of their mortgage payments and credit card loans.

Ms Sears said people from "all walks of life and all areas" have found themselves with unmanageable debts.

Spiral of debt

Forty four-year-old "Darren" clocked up debts of £17,000 when he lost his job of 21 years and resorted to paying his mortgage with his credit card.

The situation was compounded by illness and debt collection agencies became involved in securing the money owed.

The CAB has worked with him over the last 12 months and the debt was finally written off.

He said: "I'm eternally grateful for the CAB's help, were else would I turn to?"

While there are arguments over whether it is down to personal responsibility to avoid getting into debt in the first place or up to banks and retailers to loan money and extend credit less readily, in cases like Darren's, Ms Sears insists the debt is simply too big to repay.

She said: "Looking at the income, we don't see it as appropriate that his money should be paid on debts.

"It's too easy to get into debt, really too easy"
Portsmouth pensioner

"It's too big for him. Looking at the available income, and the total of the debt, he's not going to be able to pay it back.

"Its not a case that he's done this deliberately, it's not his fault he fell poorly."

With Darren now living with his parents and relying on incapacity benefits for his income, he admits being relieved that the debt is cleared but is aware that it is ultimately the other customers of the credit card company who will pick up the tab.

He said: "I was brought up to work and pay my way in life. But [I know] it's still someone else's money."

Darren's situation is far from unique.

Ms Sears said: "We are inundated, there is a lot of demand for debt advice - a lot of people are getting pushed into bankruptcy or IVA [Individual Voluntary Arrangement] to secure the debt."

Catalogue bills

Another person being helped in the same office was a pensioner wanted to remain anonymous.

She had racked up £20,000 of debt from shopping catalogues and sought help from the CAB when she could not cope financially any longer. That debt has also just been written off.

She described how her purchases got out of control. "You don't think about it, you see something you like, you order it and that's it," she said.

She admitted she "didn't really know" how much she owed by the time she came to the CAB.

Her advice to anyone in similar situation is "think about do you really need it, and be careful.

"It's too easy to get into debt, really too easy," she added.

Listen again to BBC Radio Solent's Debt Day features on BBC iPlayer.

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