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Problem debt and the credit safety net

Falling behind to keep up

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Credit safety net report

Over four million people in Great Britain struggling to keep up with bills and credit repayments have recently borrowed to make ends meet.

Using credit to pay for essentials causes harm, compounds financial difficulty and lowers living standards.

graphic: Over 4 million people in the UL struggling to keep up with bulls use credit to make ends meet

Our report finds:

71% report a negative impact on their health, relationships or ability to work

graphic: 71% report a negative impact on their health, relationships or ability to work

65% have missed bills, asked for help from family or friends or endured hardship to keep up with repayments

graphic: 65% have kept up with repayments by missing bulls, further borrowing or hardship

51% are in problem debt

graphic: 51% are struggling with problem debt

Practices in the credit market and design characteristics of products drive harms caused by safety net borrowing.

For example:

  • Credit products are inappropriately marketed and widely available to consumers in financial difficulty
  • Ineffective creditworthiness and affordability assessments facilitate unaffordable borrowing
  • Poor product design in the revolving credit, such as automatic credit limit increases, lead consumers to take on more

Quote from a StepChange client: The firms knew my income as a single parent but allowed me far larger credit limits than I should ever have been allowed. As someone who was struggling, access to credit did not help.

It is vital that people struggling with credit get effective help and support early but we found that only one in four of those struggling to keep up with credit repayments is in contact with their lender.

Worryingly, half of GB adults (53%) say that they would be reluctant to seek help with financial difficulty from a bank or credit firm due to low trust in firms to act in their interest, worries about credit reporting and embarrassment and stigma talking about financial difficulty.

The harm caused by the credit safety net arises from issues spanning regulatory and social policy and requires joined-up solutions.

We are calling for:

  1. Action to tackle products and practices that cause or compound financial difficulty
  2. Effective early intervention and support for consumers in financial difficulty
  3. Action to join up regulatory and social policy to provide safe alternatives to harmful safety net credit

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