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Rising debt levels and the struggle to cover household bills

September 20, 2017

Rising debts levels and the continued struggle to meet essential household bills are among the key findings from the latest statistical research released today by StepChange Debt Charity.

The 2017 Statistics Mid-Yearbook which examines the latest trends from the charity’s client data, highlights how increasing numbers of the under-40s, lone parents and people in rented accommodation are seeking the charity’s help.

Last year (2016) saw the first increase in the average debt of the charity’s clients since the economic crash, and that trend continued into the first six months of 2017, with average client debt rising from £14,251 in 2016 to £14,367 between January and June of 2017. The proportion of the charity’s clients who are struggling to cover their essential household bills – e.g. rent/mortgage, council tax, electricity - continues to rise and has exceeded 40% for the first time.

Lone parents

Lone parents now make up 21.5% of the charity’s clients, despite representing only 7% of the national population2. The proportion of lone parents among the charity’s clients has been rising rapidly in recent years and stood at 15.3% in 2011. Lone parents often face particularly difficult circumstances and are more likely to live in rented accommodation and are the most likely to be employed part time and the least likely to work full time.


There has been a major shift in the housing status of the charity’s clients in recent years, a trend which continued into the first half of 2017. In 2011, people living in rented accommodation made up 55.4% of the charity’s clients, in the first half of 2017 that figure had risen to 80.1%.

The under-40s

The report shows that the charity’s clients continue to get younger. Almost two thirds (63%) of all clients advised in the first six months of 2017 were under 40, in 2011 that figure stood at 51%. While the under-25s seeking the charity’s help are struggling with rapidly growing debt levels; in the first half of 2017 the average debt of the clients under-25 clients was £6,637 a figure which had risen 29% since 2015 when it stood at £5,151.

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of StepChange Debt Charity said: “Demand for debt advice is at record levels. The people we help are increasingly struggling just to meet their essential household bills and debt levels are now once again on the rise after an eight year decline. Personal debt must now become a priority for Government.

“Nearly 9m people in the UK are using credit just to cover their everyday living expenses3. Many are in irregular or insecure work, those who have borne the brunt of cuts to welfare, or those who are particularly vulnerable. In a time when households increasingly lack financial resilience, it takes very little to push someone from position of just about managing into long-term financial difficulty.

“While debt has the capacity to affect anyone, the rapidly rising debt levels of younger people, the huge over-representation among single parents and increasing numbers of those under-40 and those in rented accommodation highlight the where some of the most acute and emerging problems lie.  As credit markets have loosened and outstanding personal borrowing in the UK surges towards its 2008 peak, the concern is that there will be more people in serious financial difficulty in the not-to-distant future.

“People need better support to manage their debt problems. The Government has committed to the creation of a “breathing space” scheme to provide better protections for those people struggling with debt problems. This is a policy with cross-party support that can make a significant difference to the lives of people struggling with debt, and we urge the Government to act now.”

Notes to editors

  1. All figures unless otherwise stated are from the StepChange Debt Charity Statistics Mid Yearbook
  2. ONS 2016 Estimates
  3. StepChange Debt Charity Election 2017 Briefing – Turning round lives held back by debt

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