HUNDREDS of people in Hartlepool have been forced to plead for help after racking up personal debts worth £7.5m in just a year.
Shocking new figures reveal Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau supported 1,500 people with debt and money advice over a 12-month period - with the average debt a staggering £16,000.
Worried officials at the Park Road-based CAB say they are very concerned with the high level of personal debt their clients have, some of which is more than £100,000.
Not everyone in money trouble seeks help or advice from the CAB either so the £7.5m figure - which is similar to previous years - is likely to be even higher.
Personal debt includes everything from credit cards, personal loans, pay-day loans, mortgage and rent arrears, council tax arrears, catalogue debts and bank overdrafts.
The figures relate to the period between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014. In 2012, the figure was around £8m and worried officials say there has been no “let-up”.
Joe Michna, CAB manager, said: “There has been no let up or reduction in the number of people contacting us with debt related problems.
“The debt levels, given that they are average figures, are concerning.
“While the average debt may be £16,000 excluding mortgages, some clients have debts of well over £50,000 when they contact us.
“We deal with clients who have personal debts of everything from a few thousand through to £100,000.”
Officials say the golden rule for those experiencing money trouble is to seek help or advice early.
The CAB offers two services, a Debt Advice Service and a Money Advice Service, which offers help and support from everything from financial planning to budgeting.
CAB staff aim to re-arrange and improve debt-ridden clients’ financial affairs by gathering information on a client’s indebtedness, confirming household income, alerting clients to other potential sources of income, and identifying priority debts.
Once a full and complete picture of a client’s financial situation has been established, the CAB team can help to identify the most appropriate option for dealing with the particular client circumstances which include self-help support packages, negotiations with client creditors and bankruptcy applications.
The debt and money advice services gave advice and assistance to a combined 1,500 clients.
Mr Michna added: “The golden rule for people who have gotten themselves into debt is to seek advice early.
“We are fortunate in that we can offer two services to local people - a full debt advice service and also a money advice service.
“The money advice service can offer advice on budgeting, financial planning and income maximisation.
“We then have our full debt advice service which offers advice and assistance with debt relief orders, bankruptcy and individual voluntary arrangements as well arranging repayment plans with creditors.”
Hartlepool Citizens Advice Bureau, at 86 Park Road, runs drop-in sessions, where no appointment is needed, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, between 9.30am and 3pm.
Appointments with a debt adviser are available five days a week.
For more information you can also call (01429) 408401.
‘Busy year for advice bureau’
THE personal debt figures were revealed by the CAB in their Annual Report, which also revealed the CAB:
• Advised or assisted 315 clients with Welfare Benefit Appeals;
• Advised or assisted 63 clients with Employment Tribunal claims;
• Provided training and support for 41 volunteers;
• 97 per cent of clients – when surveyed – expressed satisfaction with the advice they had received;
• Advised and assisted 58 clients with Housing Possession proceedings;
• Helped secure financial gains or savings for local residents of £2.8m and dealt with £7.5m of personal debt.
Mr Michna said: “It has been a very good year for the bureau and we have come back from the brink of closure in 2012 when we lost funding from Hartlepool Borough Council.
“Our service is very much town-wide and we compile figures showing the number of people contacting us by local council wards.
“We have had a massively busy year in advising and assisting with welfare benefit appeals, particular in relation to the employment and support allowance.
“We have also been kept busy with employment law enquiries and during the year we helped 63 clients with employment tribunal claims.
“Our debt and money advice services gave advice and assistance to a combined 1,500 clients.
“Our housing advice and tenancy support service is now in its 17th year of operation and during the year dealt with over 1,800 housing and homelessness enquiries.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to some of our funding bodies but particularly the Big Lottery Fund, the Northern Rock Foundation and the Money Advice Service.”