The number of people struggling to pay household bills and relying on expensive credit facilities like payday loans is rising, new figures suggest.
Thirty per cent of people seeking help from debt charity StepChange in the first half of this year said they were behind on their council tax payments.
With the Big Six energy providers bumping up prices, more than 13 pent of people who approached the charity in the first half also admitted to being behind with their gas and electricity bill payments.
Problem debts: The number of people StepChange has seen using payday loans has increased since last year
Moreover, the proportion of people contacting StepChange using high-cost, short-term loan facilities was just over 18 per cent in the first six months of this year, compared to 16.8 per cent at the same point a year ago.
On average, payday loan debts per person are in the region of £1,700, StepChange said.
Phil Andrew, chief executive at StepChange, said: ‘Our clients’ experiences show loud and clear that you’re more likely to get into debt if you are already on a lower income, and that debt problems are often caused by the kinds of life shocks that can happen to anyone – job loss, ill-health or anything else that knocks your income off track.
‘We saw some particular worries in the first half of this year in the form of a resurgence in high-cost short-term credit among our clients, more people behind on fuel bills, and a stubbornly high incidence of council tax arrears.
‘Council tax is especially concerning in light of mounting evidence that government debt collection practices are lagging far behind best practice.’
Around half of StepChange’s clients in the first half of this year fell into debt because of job loss, reduced income or health issues.
On the up: All of the ig Six energy providers have announced bill hikes this year
On the thorny issue of council tax bills, nearly half of people who approached StepChange with council tax arrears admitted they had more money going out than coming in.
The debt charity said council tax collection practices were ‘notoriously variable’, with some people being chased aggressively for debts.
Up and down the country, many households have found themselves lumbered with the biggest council tax hikes for 14 years this year, with many bills rising over 5 per cent.
With increasing numbers also struggling to keep up with ever-increasing energy bills, StepChange said it wants to see more utility companies to establish flexible repayment schemes, as well as sharing effective good practice on working with people who are struggling to pay to minimise their costs.
Troubled times: Around half of StepChange’s clients in the first half fell into debt because of job loss, reduced income or health issues
Last month, the National Audit Office estimated that the increased use of public health and housing services by people with problem debt costs taxpayers an additional £248million a year, and around £900million a year to the economy as a whole.
The NAO also estimated that people across the UK owe at least £18billion to utility providers, landlords, housing associations and government, such as through council tax arrears or benefit overpayments.
During the first half of the year, StepChange was contacted by 326,897 people worried about their finances.
Of the 180,644 who received full debt advice and a recommended debt solution, two-thirds were under 40. Around 60 per cent asking for help were women.
Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association resources board, said: ‘No council wants to have to debt collect from its residents, particularly from people on low incomes, but local authorities have a duty to their residents to collect taxes which fund essential services, such as protecting vulnerable children, caring for the elderly, collecting bins, and keeping roads maintained.’
He added: ‘Anyone who is having trouble paying their council tax or bills should contact their local authority as soon as possible, for financial help and advice, and to discuss the options available.’