WE ARE on the brink of a potential debt explosion.
That is the message from Citizens Advice centres throughout the region, after figures showed a sharp rise in personal debt problems in the area.
Staff at Citizens Advice Portsmouth say they have seen the number of people coming in with personal debt problems doubled in the last financial year, with the total amount of debt also being doubled.
In Gosport, the number of visitors has increased by more than 20 per cent, with the number of clients rising from 6,807 to 8,522 – with a 15 per cent rise in Havant, from 5,613 clients in 2015/16 to 6,459 clients in 2016/17.
All came to the centre with financial problems.
Portsmouth chief officer Sandy O’Neil said the figures were not only alarming, but showed that a wider range of people were falling into serious debt.
She said: ‘Our typical client used to be those who were right on the poverty line, but now the problems are becoming more widespread.
‘Many of these households, working full-time jobs, are struggling to even pay for their essential expenditure.
‘Food isn’t being put on the table, and some people are going without gas or electricity.’
Valerie Kelly from Citizens Advice Gosport believes that the way benefits are handled by the government is the main issue. She said: ‘The fact that credit is easier to access certainly doesn’t help, but many of the issues we see stem from issues people are having with their benefits. If people receive benefit sanctions, which mean that their benefits are either reduced or stopped, it throws a complete spanner into the works and it all spirals out of control from there.
‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the number of people coming to us needing advice continues to increase at a similar rate – we could be on the cusp of a potential debt explosion.’
Although Citizens Advice Fareham didn’t have any figures available, operations manager Biddy Mayo has echoed the issues in Gosport.
She said: ‘Issues with benefits can cause a number of debt issues, but so can people’s changing circumstances.
‘People coming in for advice may have recently been through a separation or illness, which can plunge them into debt
‘The figures from other centres really don’t surprise me – and I think it could be the case again next year.’
If you are in financial difficulty call the national Citizens Advice helpline on 03444 111 444.