Thousands approach Christmas with debt

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More than 23,000 people are approaching Christmas under the burden of debt across St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath.

Leaders of debt advice services in West Suffolk have said they are not surprised by the figures, released by the Money Advice Service (MAS).

In St Edmundsbury 13.5 per cent of people have been three months late paying bills in the last six months or consider their debt a ‘heavy burden’.

In Forest Heath 17.04 people are living with this burden.

Jane Ballard, district manager of Suffolk West Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “It does not really surprise me. I think peoples’ household budgets are really being squeezed .”

Mrs Ballard said people were struggling to keep up with incoming welfare reforms, such as the bedroom tax and changes to Jobseekers Allowance.

Increasing energy prices and rent are also having an impact, she said.

David Chambers is a debt coach with the West Suffolk branch of Christians Against Poverty.

He said the branch has been busy and several clients were experiencing serious problems due to their debt levels.

The MAS ranked Britain’s 406 local authorities according to the percentage of their population considered ‘over-indebted’.

Forest Heath was ranked 170th while St Edmundsbury placed 218th.

Mr Chambers said: “It was interesting to see how Forest Heath compared to other parts of the country.

“It ranks in the middle but within Forest Heath there are certain pockets, in towns and villages, where there’s a higher concentration of people with problems.”

Mr Chambers said it was not only those receiving benefit support who were struggling to adapt their budgets to keep up with the increasing cost of living.

He said: “We see people from the middle class sector as well as those whose only income is benefit related.

“It’s a broad spectrum of people in the community that can be affected by debt.

“Sometimes it can overtake people who have been able to pay their own way for years and all of a sudden circumstances can change.

“The real concern we have coming up to Christmas is there’s an expectation you can’t enjoy or celebrate Christmas without spending lots of money - You can.”

Mrs Ballard and Mr Chambers both urged people to budget this Christmas and to seek help assistance early if struggling with cope with debt.