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StepChange reports nearly 1 in 10 clients in Scotland in debt due to Covid

43% rise in average rent arrears; long-term action needed to support recovery

3 June, 2021

More than 31,500 people in Scotland sought help from StepChange Debt Charity, and over 11,000 went through a full debt advice process during the year of the pandemic, according to the charity’s latest Scotland in the Red update.

Average client rent arrears rose by a dramatic 43% in 2020, one of the most worrying impacts of the pandemic and a very clear warning that continuing support will be needed for many households if recovery from post-Covid debt is to be achievable.

Polling shows thousands of Scots are struggling with debt and are behind on essential bills like Council Tax and rent, with more than a fifth using credit to make ends meet (see notes to editors) and cover essential costs.

Around one in ten clients explicitly identified COVID-19 as a reason for their financial difficulties, despite Government and regulatory intervention and temporary additional support.

The most common debts held by clients were Credit Cards (70%) and loans (53%). In terms of household bills, significant proportions of clients were struggling with Council Tax (43%), rent and utilities. Around of half of those seeking help had some form of additional vulnerability as well as their problem debt.

Sharon Bell, Head of StepChange Scotland Debt Charity, said:

“The past year has presented households with unprecedented challenges; thrown those just getting by into real financial difficulty and exacerbated the difficulties of those who were already struggling.

"It is particularly concerning to see so many households with additional vulnerabilities needing help. It’s really important, as the country begins to look towards some light at the end of the tunnel, that concrete steps are taken to support households in problem debt who will feel they are facing a bleak financial future.”

“We are making important recommendations that would help those households. We want to see the Scottish Government build on its actions to date to ensure that any recovery does not leave financially vulnerable households behind.

"That should involve putting some of its emergency measures on to a permanent footing. Support needs to be identified for those struggling with essential costs like rent, utilities and especially Council Tax, where improvements to debt management practice are sorely needed.

"The good work already achieved under the Debt Advice Routemap needs to be extended, and a cross-government strategy needs to be adopted to address not just post-crisis debt solutions, but also the underlying drivers of debt.”

Notes to Editors

  1. For all YouGov polling: Total sample size was 1,045 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 26th February 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scotland adults (aged 18+)
  2. In 2019, the charity commenced the roll out of a new online and telephone debt advice data capture system, Pulse. The statistics in this year’s edition of Scotland in the Red, unless otherwise stated, are based on 6,443 Scottish clients who sought full debt advice in 2020 through Pulse. Comparisons are therefore between this 2020 sample of clients and historic data is based on our legacy telephone system. Previous editions of Scotland in the Red have been restricted to telephone advice clients only. Historically online clients have been younger, had more debt and higher earnings than telephone clients. Pulse also allows us to report on several additional categories which appear in this edition of Scotland in the Red for the first time

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