1 in 3 buried in mountain of debt

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A TICKING time-bomb of debt is hanging over struggling Wigan families, an alarming new report reveals.

Shocking figures from the independent Government-funded Money Advice Service shows that approaching a third of people across the borough are seriously behind with bills and the financial fears stretch right across the community, from struggling students to stretched working families and those on benefits.

In fact, more than 69,760 out of Wigan and Leigh’s adult population of 242,850 – or 29 per cent – are now classed as seriously “over-indebted”, leaving the area as the 54th worst hit out of 406 council areas nationwide.

The data again shows that gas and electricity bills were people’s biggest burden, with 80 per cent struggling to keep up payments.

Now Makerfield’s MP has joined forces with Wigan Council leader Lord Smith to call for people to turn their backs on the temptation of using pay day loan companies and seek out professional debt counselling advice instead.

Yvonne Fovargue, who spent a quarter of a century at the “coal face” of domestic debt counselling as a chief executive of a local Citizens Advice Bureau branch before entering Parliament, insisted today that the report would come as “no surprise” to people across Wigan facing a “cost of living crisis”.

She said: “A perfect storm of rising prices for essential items and social security cuts like the Bedroom Tax are stretching household budgets to breaking point.

“The report demonstrates that we need to do more to publicise the good quality advice that exists to help people deal with spiralling debt.

“Having worked for many years in a Citizens Advice Bureau, I would recommend that any person who finds themselves struggling should book an appointment with an adviser at Wigan and Leigh Citizens Advice Bureau who can provide specialist help and begin to turn around the cycle of debt and what’s more, this is a free and impartial service.”

Leader of the council Lord Smith said that the link between deprived communities and levels of debt was “very clear.”

He said: “It is alarming to see that it is not just those on benefits but many working families are caught up in the debt spiral.

“As a council we are doing our best both to help people manage their money and to encourage credit unions who they can turn to when necessary.

“We are positively discouraging people from getting into the hands of pay day lenders who charge huge interest rates and high fees.

“If anyone has a problem with debt I would encourage them to seek help from the council’s Life Centres, CAB or other advice services.”

Chief executive of the Money Advice Service Caroline Rookes said today that “debt advice works” and the earlier people access it the better their chances of reaching a good outcome for themselves and their creditors.

She said: “We know that high quality debt advice increases an individual’s well bring, it improves collection rates for creditors and it boost the health of communities.

“The challenge is that most over-indebted people don’t access advice and the Money Advice Service is committed to ensuring that more people can access high quality debt advice.

“This research helps us to understand in more detail than had been possible before, the sort of help that people who are struggling with their debts need and the different ways that we can engage with them to help them get advice that best meets their needs.“