Debt advisers warn of surge in number of people needing help

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EXTRA debt advisers are being drafted in to Portsmouth as the number of people struggling with their finances and seeking help rises.

Funding has been secured for five new debt advisers to cope with a rising tide of debt problems.

It comes as Portsmouth City Council’s advice service for council tenants reports a 35 per cent rise in referrals compared to last year.

Experts also warn that loan sharks and some creditors are taking advantage of the tough financial climate.

The chief executive of Portsmouth Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB), Lynne Davies, told The News that money was now available for the extra five staff.

She said help was at hand for those who need it – and warned people to take action if they were struggling.

‘The most important message is that people must not bury their heads in the sand,’ she said.

‘If they seek advice they can find out what options are available to them and start to turn things around.’

Figures released by Portsmouth CAB show debt advice makes up almost 40 per cent of all the enquiries the service deals with.

City advice centre debt manager and case worker David Barton said the last few months had seen services stretched to the limit.

‘In the first half of this year we have seen an unprecedented increase in people seeking advice,’ he said.

‘I have worked in this field for more than 25 years and it has never been this bad. It isn’t just the number of enquiries, but their seriousness.

‘Every day now we are having to drop everything to help someone in a desperate situation, who might be on the point of bankruptcy or losing their home.’

Since March there has been a reduction in the services provided by the Portsmouth Advice Centre because of cuts to their funding, and Mr Barton said this has been exploited by unscrupulous creditors.

He said: ‘We have seen harassment rise by at least 30 per cent. Those lending money know we have been cut and so take advantage by telling debtors the most awful rubbish or trying to intimidate them into handing over money. Many people don’t realise you only have to let bailiffs into your home under certain circumstances.’

Samantha Roberts, 36, of London Avenue, in North End, was told by a council bailiff – in front of her two children – that she would go to prison if she didn’t pay on the spot.

She said: ‘When I got into debt for my council tax I tried sorting it out, but when I lost my job it became impossible. I lost my house and had to move back in with my parents. Then a bailiff turned up and told me if I didn’t pay immediately I would go to prison.

‘Then they increased the debt. It just feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.’