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Every 48 seconds one person contacted debt charity last year

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Record numbers of people contacted debt charity StepChange last year, statistics reveal.

The charity received 657,930 new contacts in 2018, up from 619,946 in 2017. This works out as one person contacting the charity every 48 seconds.

The average age of a new client was 40, down from 41 in 2017, and two thirds of clients were under 40, compared to just half (51%) in 2014.

The majority of people who contacted the charity were in work, and more than four out of five (82%) rented their home.

StepChange reported “a small but worrying rise” in the proportion of new clients contacting them with payday or other high cost short-term credit debt problems, most notably among the younger population. Over a quarter (26%) of new female clients and over a third (35%) of new male clients aged under 25 had problems with this type of debt.

Single parent families

There was also a notable increase in single parents – 85% of whom were women – seeking help with debt. Last year, 23% of people who took debt advice were single parents, up from 21.5% in 2017, having steadily risen from 18% since 2014.

With single parents accounting for only 6% of the UK population, they are increasingly over-represented among people experiencing problem debt, StepChange said.

There was an increase in the proportion of clients whose debt problems were triggered by a reduction in income. The top three reasons for debt were unemployment or redundancy (17%), injury or illness (16%) or other reduced income (17%).

One in nine clients (11%) attributed their debt problems to a lack of budgeting – down from one in five (20%) just two years earlier.

The proportion of new clients “behind on the basics”, in arrears on at least one priority household bill at the time they sought advice remained stubbornly high, at 39%. The most common arrears were on council tax, with rent and utility bills also featuring.

The biggest category of consumer debt was credit cards.

StepChange’s chief executive Phil Andrew said: “The number of people who contacted us last year works out at one every 48 seconds – a record level of demand. That’s the scale of the debt problem in the UK, and our advisers hear every day the devastating impact that debt can have on people.

“While a huge amount has been done to support people in problem debt and reform credit markets, our client insight shows that there’s still much more for government, policy makers and creditors to consider.”

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