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Why is problem debt growing in Scotland and why must it be a priority for government?

Scotland in the Red is our annual look at what life is like for Scots experiencing problem debt. We've analysed client data across every Scottish constituency to get a picture of how our clients were affected in 2018.

We believe there are nearly 700,000 people in Scotland in, or at risk of, problem debt. It's primarily a symptom of poverty, poor housing conditions, welfare cuts, ill-health, and insecure work.

1. We’re seeing more clients with Council Tax arrears

In 2018, 46% of clients were in Council Tax arrears. They owed, on average, £2,017 in arrears.

In 2018, 46% of clients in Scotland were in arrears with Council Tax. They owed, on average, £2,017 in arrears

2. More clients are in debt because of reductions in income or benefits

In 2018, 25% of clients said a reduction in income or benefits was the main reason for their financial difficulties.

In 2018, 25% of clients in Scotland said a reduction in income or benefits was the main reason for their financial difficulties

3. More clients are falling behind their household bills

The average level of electricity arrears has increased by 23% since 2014. In 2018, clients were an average of £826 in arrears.

The average level of electricity arrears in Scotland has increased by 23% since 2014. In 2018, clients were an average of £826 in arrears

Our key recommendations

Earlier signposting to free debt advice

We need more signposting to free debt advice, and we need people to be encouraged to seek advice earlier: stigma is still a big problem and organisations working with the public should reiterate that anyone can find themselves in difficulty.


Urgent action on Council Tax

We want Local Authorities to work with the advice sector to develop a best practice toolkit to address Council Tax arrears. We also want them to consider separating the water and sewage charges from Council Tax bills to make it clearer to everyone what they are paying.


Scotland needs a coordinated action plan for addressing debt

The social cost of problem debt in Scotland is around three-quarters of a billion pounds. People who are at risk of debt are also vulnerable to public policy choices, therefore a Minister is required to develop a high impact action plan to address the crisis.

Download our summary report now for statistics and recommendations.

Download now

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Region and constituency data

For full data tables by Scottish Parliament Constituency and region, download our dataset (this document will open in Excel).

  Download the full dataset

Want more information?

Email us to discuss our 2018 Scotland in the Red research and our key recommendations for the future.

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Helping you become debt free...

“I wish to thank your staff for all the great help they gave me when I was in so much debt.
They were a pillar of support to me.” (Leslie, Essex)

Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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© StepChange Debt Charity 2019