Locals £1 million in debt

DEBT continues to be “a huge and growing problem” for people in Berwickshire and the total amount of debt dealt with by Roxburgh and Berwickshire Citizens Advice Bureau in the last year exceeded £1m for the first time since records began.

Over 2.3 million people in Scotland (56% of the population over 18) have unsecured debt (debt beyond their mortgage) but while 90% believe they will be able to pay back their debts themselves the reality is that almost one million of them won’t be able to do so, and will seek a solution either through a debt management plan, Individual Voluntary Arrangement, bankruptcy order, a debt relief order or other means.

In 2009/10 the Roxburgh and Berwickshire CAB, which serves the Berwickshire area from its main office in Duns (01361 883340), saw 271 cases that were related to some sort of debt, and the total amount of that debt was £998,950. In 2010/11 there were 339 such cases, and the total debt was £1,164,043.

Berwickshire CAB manager Rhona Calder said: “This was a very sad milestone for us to pass, but sadly it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

“We’ve been seeing a steady rise in debt cases over the last few years, as people struggle to cope with falling incomes and rising prices.

“The best advice we can give people is to avoid getting into debt in the first place. That may sound obvious but especially as we come to Christmas, we urge everyone to budget very carefully and be aware of what they are spending. Fancy ads for credit cards and loan companies look very attractive, but you need to remember that it’s not free money.

“Getting into debt is a vicious circle, and many of the debt clients we see tell us they started off with just a small debt but it spiralled out of control. You can save yourself so much heartache by giving those adverts a miss. Or if you have to borrow, make sure you borrow at a fair rate from a responsible lender.

“If you are already in debt, don’t despair - there is help available. You have to face up to the problem, and we know that is difficult. But our expert advisers can help you, and our help is free, confidential and completely impartial.

“Every case is unique and requires unique solutions. But no matter how bad your debt is, there is always some route that you can take, and we will help you do that. Usually this means coming up with a realistic repayment plan, and we can sometimes increase your income by telling you about benefits you didn’t know you were entitled to. Often we can negotiate with your creditors on your behalf, and perhaps reduce or freeze your debt. In extreme cases, bankruptcy may be an option, and we can talk you through that.

“But it is essential that people who are in this position have access to the sort of independent, expert advice which is available free from the CAB. As today’s numbers show, the need for that advice is growing, and does not look likely to decrease in the near future.”

Steve Rees, managing director for Vincent Bond and Co, personal insolvency experts, said: “The Scottish have a famous reputation for being canny with their cash. But they have at last caught the British habit of relying on credit. This year there have been five times as many personal insolvencies in the UK as there were ten years ago. The fact that 90% of Scots believe they can take care of their debts themselves even though this is clearly not the case, is worrying. I would advise all these people to seek help and deal honestly with their debts.”

“Coming to terms with debt is never an easy thing to do, and the fact so many people have such a high amount of debt is alarming. If you had £20,000 of debt and could afford to pay £200 per month it would still take you almost a decade to be clear of the debt in full. I would recommend those with such high levels of debt seek professional advice and start clearing it now.”

For CAB’s Top 10 Tips for a debt-free Christmas see page 2.