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One in four adults in Scotland using credit to cover essentials

26 June 2024

New research commissioned through YouGov by StepChange Debt Charity of UK adults (of whom 186 live in Scotland) shows that one in four adults (24%) in Scotland have used a form of credit to pay for essentials (groceries, utilities, housing) in the past three months, while one in five (19%) adults in Scotland have borrowed money to keep up with credit agreements.

The data comes as StepChange Scotland releases its Scotland in the Red report, exploring the debt and demographics of its clients in 2023. Both the report and the new stats reveal a difficult picture for Scots’ finances, with certain groups, particularly those who are more vulnerable, facing acute pressures brought on by the cost of living crisis.

The charity says that increasing household financial resilience must be a priority for any incoming UK Government, as it continues to support thousands of people who are falling into debt due to the high cost of essential expenditure, despite a majority being in employment.

The report shows that among StepChange Scotland clients in 2023:

  • Almost one in three (31%) are in a negative budget, up from 27% in 2022
  • Over half (55%) of clients are in full or part time work, despite this they still face difficulty with problem debt
  • Almost half (47%) of clients under 25 are in Council Tax arrears, compared to 30% of all clients
  • Average household arrears among all clients rose from £2,920 in 2022 to £3,147 in 2023 - the highest they have been in five years

Council tax remains a challenging bill for StepChange Scotland clients, with the charity concerned over how much more prevalent council tax debt is among younger people, single parents and vulnerable clients.

StepChange Scotland has emphasised the need for reform of council tax collection practices, as local authorities’ often quick and sometimes inappropriate use of sheriff officers can exacerbate hardship for struggling households.

Sharon Bell, Head of StepChange Scotland, said:

“With only days to go until the General Election, a new Government in Westminster must prioritise financial security, ensuring that the cost of living crisis does not create long-lasting difficulty for households. This should involve giving people a fair chance to re-build financial resilience through adequate social safety nets and fairly remunerated employment.

“With our data showing that council tax is still pushing low-income households into hardship, we need to see a continued focus from the Scottish Government on creating fairer council tax collection practices. This can be achieved through collaborative working with local authorities, sheriff officers and advice agencies.”

Notes to Editors

  1. StepChange’s 2023 Scotland in the Red report can be found here
  2. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,116 UK adults. Scottish figures are based on a sub-sample of 186 respondents. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 9th May 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  3. A negative budget is when a client does not have sufficient income to meet expenses after budget counselling.

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