Debt on the increase

ADVISERS with Banbridge Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) have been dealing with an upsurge in enquires exacerbated by Christmas debt.

Manager Margaret Ellis said over the past few weeks the local branch had seen a “steady number” of clients who have been seeking help and advice following financial problems created by over-spending.

“January is traditionally a bleak month, and that feeling can be increased by post-Christmas debt,” said Ms Ellis. “Credit card bills will be coming in from mid-month and many people will have been paid early before Christmas. The overall effect is to increase stress levels relating to money and debt worries.”

Clients attending the Banbridge CAB office have been requesting advice on budgeting and managing their money more effectively to minimise the risk of falling into debt, according to the local manager.

“Some people have been just about managing, while others have found their problems have been exacerbated by the pressure of Christmas spending,” she said. “Increasing numbers of people are experiencing financial worries, the majority of which can be attributed to the ongoing effects of the recession - for example, many of the people with concerns over mortgage repayments are aged between 25-40 and had bought houses during the peak of the housing boom.”

She said current pressures on household budgets were being made worse due to the fact that, for most people, their income would not have risen “significantly”, while the costs of basic food, clothes, transport and heating have surged.

“Fuel poverty is a really big concern at the moment,” Margaret added, “and the likelihood is that it will feature more strongly in the Banbridge area in the near future.”

Uncertainty in the workplace is another factor contributing to the general unease, particularly in the wake of large companies closing their doors.

“People have no sense of security and there is also the prospect of the impending welfare reforms which will also have an effect on people’s income,” said the CAB manager.

“Under these reforms, there will be reductions which will impact on people’s ability to manage their money.”

The Banbridge office has been dealing with people from all areas of society - particularly a new influx of middle class earners who would previously have been exempt from the worst effects of the recession.

Margaret also pointed out that even those who have managed their finances responsibly and who have had savings are finding that external circumstances have forced them into unforeseen difficulties.

“Savings run out and people are getting more worried about what to do,” she added. “and, with the impending reforms, there will be a lot of change for many more people in the weeks ahead.”

Current figures show 29 clients have had contact with the bureau in the first three weeks of the New Year with debt-related issues and Margaret says this trend is expected to continue as bills and statements drop on to doormats at the end of January.