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Debt problems placing strain on health services

27 February, 2015

A leading UK debt charity is warning that a lack of adequate help and protection for people struggling with debt is placing a potentially heavy burden on health services as a result of debt related illnesses. In 2014, StepChange Debt Charity estimates that nearly 60% of the 315,000 people it advised sought medical advice for debt related illnesses [1].

The charity’s research also highlights how indebted people who are threatened with enforcement action by creditors are substantially more likely to seek advice for debt related health problems; 70% of people threatened by their creditor with enforcement action (e.g. court action, bailiffs and repossession) had sought medical help for debt related illness, compared with 49% who had not been threatened [1].

Recent research by the charity has shown how poor treatment by creditors can impact on individuals’ health and often drives indebted people to engage in risky coping strategies like taking on more credit to pay back existing debts and falling behind on other bills[2].  Today’s findings come as the charity renews its call for a new statutory scheme to deliver better protections for people struggling with debt.

GPs bearing the brunt of debt related health issues

A survey of the charity’s clients found that 47% of respondents said they had visited their GP as a result of mental or physical health problems caused by their debts. A further 6% said they had visited hospital and 5% had visited Accident and Emergency [1]. The charity estimates that debt related mental and physical health problems cost the UK £979m [3].

The emotional toll of debt

The charity’s research emphasises the enormous emotional burden that debt places on individuals. 65% of respondents said that the statement “I feel myself getting agitated” applied to a considerable degree or very much; and that this applied much or most of the time; for the statements “I feel scared” and “I feel I’m not worth much as a person” the figures stood at 59% and 53% respectively[ 1].

Give people breathing space

Current voluntary, statutory and legislative protections are not helping enough people at the early stages to stop the harmful effects of debt. The charity is calling for an extended breathing space guarantee that would ensure that if people who are struggling with debt access debt advice, then they would get a freeze on interest and charges, a halt on enforcement action and period of time in which people repay only what they can [2].

Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “Debt is rarely ever exclusively a financial problem, it can have a destructive effect on all areas of a person’s life, particularly their health, and the lives of their family. It needn’t be that way. Early intervention and better protections for people can reduce the harm that debt causes.

“By giving people time and space to repay their debts in an affordable and sustainable way, we can help people avoid some of the worst consequences that debt imposes and reduce the costs to wider society."

Notes to editors

  1. Results based on survey of 1,692 StepChange Debt Charity clients conducted December 2014
  2. Safe Harbours – a report by StepChange Debt Charity (February 2015)
  3. The £8.3bn Challenge – a report by StepChange Debt Charity (October 2014)

Contact the the StepChange news team on:

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Email: press@stepchange.org

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