Town debt totalling £8m

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ALMOST 1,500 Hartlepool people pleaded for help after racking up debts totalling more than £8m in just 12 months.

An average of 26 people a week – or four a day – are contacting Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) for help with debts up to a whopping £120,000.

The service has been inundated with queues of cash-strapped people seeking financial advice from its staff in the 12 months to March this year.

In the previous year, from April 2010 to March 2011, an almost identical level of debt and number of people seeking help was recorded.

The huge debt bill comes from credit cards, personal loans, catalogues, overdrafts, fuel bills, rent arrears, mortgage arrears and pay-day loans, usually as a result of “unemployment and redundancies” in the town.

It comes as the latest figures show Hartlepool has one of the highest proportions nationwide for people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and in June there were 4,502 residents in the town claiming the benefit.

The debt figures were revealed today in a report called Light at the End of the Tunnel, compiled by CAB staff, who often deal with people who are left depressed and even suicidal due to the cash worries.

Joe Michna, manager of the CAB service, which has served Hartlepool for more than 73 years, said: “The Hartlepool CAB is in the very frontline of tackling the UK personal debt crisis and during the period April 2011 to March 2012 gave advice and assistance to almost 1,500 clients who had problems in dealing with their personal debts.

“The combined personal debt of all of the clients that the bureau offered advice to in excess of £8m.

“Debts owed by clients can range from £10,000 to £120,000. We see many clients with total personal debt of £30,000, £40,000, £50,000 and upward.

“We see clients right across the spectrum and the figure of £120,000 was the highest individual debt amount for one client alone during the last 12 months.

“Also bear in mind that this is only the debts owed by clients who actually contact us. Some local residents will use fee-paying debt management companies or try and muddle through themselves. Total personal debt in Hartlepool is well more than £8m.

“One of the reasons why we are getting so many requests for advice and assistance with personal debt is due a relatively high level of unemployment and redundancies in the area.”

He added: “As a result of these debts, it is not unusual for my debt advice team to have to deal with clients whose mental or physical wellbeing has been affected by the fact that they have personal debts that they cannot cope with.

“My staff often see clients suffering from depression and also some who make reference to suicide.”

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, for example mortgage and rent arrears, fuel debts and fines.

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.

These include:

● Self-help support packages;

● Negotiations with client creditors;

● Debt relief order applications;

● Bankruptcy applications.

Joe said the free debt advice service his staff provides is under threat due to funding being squeezed and after being informed that the Legal Services Commission, from April 2013, will cease to fund most debt advice services.

The CAB debt advice services are currently funded by the Money Advice Service and the Government’s Advice Services Fund.

Anyone who is worried about debt can drop into the CAB on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays from 9.30am to 3pm.