Citizens' Advice fears massive surge in Wigan residents needing financial support after lockdown

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A Wigan advice centre says it fears a massive surge in residents seeking help with personal debt problems once lockdown is over.

Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough said people owing more than they can pay back is one of the most common problems it has to deal with.

And it is worried that, while some measures have been put in place to keep finances afloat during the current extraordinary circumstances, it is still likely many people will be in precarious money positions once the lockdown is lifted.

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This is because for many people personal debt is still being racked up even with the economy effectively on ice.

Financial concerns for WiganersFinancial concerns for Wiganers
Financial concerns for Wiganers | jpimedia

The gloomy warning comes after the Centre for Cities think tank released a report showing Wiganers owed, typically, £1 for every £5 they earn, just one per cent off the worst debt-to-income ratio of any large town or city included in the study.

The organisation said it was worried this would ultimately hamper working-class industrial towns when they try to recover from coronavirus.

Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough operations manager Sandra Traynor said: “Debt and benefits-related issues are what we see most of in this current time with coronavirus.

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“What we expect is that when lockdown is lifted debt is going to go through the roof.

“People have either been furloughed or laid off and while there are all these steps in place like requesting payment breaks on mortgages or help with bills, but this is going to come back.

“We know for a fact interest is still going on credit card debt and a payment break just extends the life of that debt. Interest hasn’t been frozen and that’s going to resurface at some point.

“High-interest and payday loans are also quite prominent, with people using them to get through everyday life. In a lot of cases they are not borrowing for luxuries, very often it’s because they are struggling to get by.

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“That’s definitely the case if people are only on 80 per cent of their income.

“We’ve also seen people stuck at home getting into spending online on gambling sites to relieve the boredom.

“It’s very easy to spend money you might not actually have and that’s usually where it starts to pile up.

“Our debt advisers are extremely busy and I can’t see that changing in the near future.”

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Ms Traynor said that, with face-to-face appointments cancelled for social distancing reasons, there is currently opportunity for Wiganers concerned about finances to book appointments to speak to Citizens’ Advice.

She urged anyone worried about money to get in touch.

The Centre for Cities report says Wigan is alongside Middlesborough with the unenviable statistic of residents typically owing around 20 per cent of their income.

Swansea, Sunderland and Warrington all had the highest rate in the study, at 21 per cent.

In Oxford, on the other hand, people typically owed just 35p for each £1 they earned.

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Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said: “The economic damage caused by coronavirus is already hitting people’s personal finances.

“Unfortunately, as more and more people are furloughed or made redundant, those struggling with debt are likely to be worst affected.

“Failure to support people with high levels of debt during this crisis will have a broader negative impact on the local economies of places where people are indebted - particularly those in northern England and Wales.”

Citizens’ Advice Wigan Borough is offering advice on 0300 3309 077, by email at [email protected] or by filling out a contact form on the website

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