Debt charity sees jump in number of people seeking help
The National Debtline helped people repay more than 150,000 different household debts last year - a staggering increase of more than 140% since 2007.
In a sign that families are increasingly struggling to make ends meet and cover essential household costs such as energy, water, phone and council tax bills, the charity said it had seen a dramatic change in the type of debts families are encountering.
Less people are reporting problems with traditional debt problems, such as credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans, but more people than ever are struggling with household bills.
The Debtline's figures reveal it has seen: an increase of 305% in the calls it takes about water rate arrears since 2007; a jump of 230% with those concerned about telephone bills; and a 171% increase in those worried about their energy bills.
It also saw a 97% increase in catalogue arrears calls, and a 95% increase in the amount of calls it had regarding council tax payments.
Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust (the charity that runs the National Debtline), said: "The gradual erosion of some families' surplus income in the face of rising prices has led to a new generation of debt problems - one to which more people are vulnerable, one which is harder to resolve, and one which has no definitive solution.
"We're hearing from more people in serious debt difficulty as a result of debts totalling less than £5,000. When there is little room in a household budget to meet basic expenses, paying off debts can seem impossible.
"With interest rates set to rise it is vital that we can help families on the financial brink. The impressive recovery of the broader economy should provide opportunities to help halt the rise of these debt problems."
The cost of living is likely to be high on the political agenda in the run up to the next general election. Labour has promised it will freeze energy prices for 20 months if it wins the next election in May 2015.
The Money Advice Service is calling on the Financial Conduct Authority to help encourage financial products and services which meet the needs of cash-strapped households.
“Arrears” tend to be associated with debt. If you fall behind and miss payments on any outstanding debt, the amount you failed to pay is an arrear – the amount accrued from the date on which the first missed payment was due.