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Embarrassment prevents struggling households seeking help

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

People who are struggling financially aren’t seeking the help they need because of embarrassment and shame, the city regulator has revealed, as it urges people not to suffer in silence.

Millions of people get help with their finances every year, but for many more, they’re missing out because of embarrassment and stigma, the Financial Conduct Authority revealed.

Its research found 42% of borrowers who were struggling chose to ignore their lender because they felt ashamed.

Worryingly, two out of five people who were struggling financially incorrectly believed that talking to a debt adviser would leave a negative mark on their credit file.

And for more than half (52%) of borrowers in difficulty, they waited more than a month before seeking help, with 53% regretting not making the move sooner.

The FCA found that the feeling of regret became stronger as time went on, with 67% regretting their decision to wait more than six months before reaching out for help.

But for those who did get debt help, 79% said they would recommend it and 70% said it had been more helpful than they thought it would be.

Meanwhile, the FCA revealed that borrowers in financial difficulty are more likely to be female (59%) than male (40%); be younger – 42% were aged between 18 and 34 compared to 27% of all borrowers. Further, twice as many borrowers in financial difficulty live in low income households compared to all UK adults – 35% compared to 17%.

As such, the FCA and the MoneyHelper are urging people to:

  • Contact their lender if they are struggling to make their payments. Lenders have already been told to offer individual help and support to customers. Where someone is struggling, they may be able to set up reduced or no payments for a period.
  • Contact MoneyHelper if they are worried about money. The government-backed service can help people work out how to prioritise bills and payments, or access free, expert debt advice.

The FCA and MoneyHelper have also published top tips for those who find themselves in financial difficulty:

  • Open up to someone as soon as you can. Talking about money can be challenging because of feelings of shame, embarrassment or not wanting to burden others. But talking about money is a good first step. Don’t wait to contact your lender if you get into difficulty – you can talk to them even before you miss a payment.
  • Work out and prioritise  your debts. Write down everything you owe. This might seem overwhelming but facing up to what you owe will help in the long run. Debt advice can help you work out how best to prioritise your debts. Priority bills and debts include things like mortgage, rent and utility bills. Debt advice can help you put in place arrangements for other debts so that you can focus on your priority bills and debts.
  • Shop around for affordable credit. Before taking out any new borrowing, consider how this fits in with your overall financial position to ensure it doesn’t make matters worse. If you do need to borrow more, shop around for affordable credit. While it can be tempting to use high-cost credit options like payday loans, more affordable options may be available from other lenders such as credit unions.
  • Set a budget. A good way to understand how much you can afford to pay back each month is to write down what your income is and list all your expenditure. The budget planner on the MoneyHelper website can help you calculate this.

Sheldon Mills, executive director of consumers and competition at the FCA, said: “Anyone can find themselves in financial difficulty, and the rising cost of living means more people will struggle to make ends meet. If you’re struggling financially the most important thing is to speak to someone. If you’re worried about keeping up with payments, talk to your lender as soon as possible, as they could offer affordable options to pay back what is owed.”

‘Money and debt are taboo subjects’

Karen Noye, mortgage expert at Quilter, said: “Money continues to be a taboo subject, and this is particularly evident when it comes to debt. Those struggling financially are not seeking support from their lenders when going into arrears because they feel a sense of embarrassment.

“Although understandable, burying your head in the sand is potentially the worst course of action when it comes to problem debt. There is a huge connection between mental and financial health, and it is always best to seek help otherwise as one aspect of your health deteriorates so does the other.

“Getting into serious mortgage debt can have disastrous consequences. Not only could you lose a roof over your head, but you could end up struggling to get another mortgage because of poor credit history.

“It is never too late to seek help but getting help early on can stop you spiralling into a serious situation. Lenders have lots of options available to those struggling and it’s important to let them know how significant your financial difficulties are so they can decide how best to help.”

Related: See YouMoney.com’s guide on How and where to get help with debt for more information.