Tackling Rutland’s ‘debt timebomb’

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Thousands of Rutland residents “struggling to make ends meet” sought advice from staff at its Citizens Advice Bureau.

Benefits accounted for 41 per cent of the enquires.

And a worrying proportion of the 15 per cent of queries on debt were about payday loan borrowing.

According to Rutland CAB’s Annual Report 2013/2014: “The combination of upheaval in Government policy, stagnating wages in an area that has low wages even in comparison with the rest of East Midlands, high food costs, rocketing energy bills and public spending cuts has triggered a crisis for many.

“Although the last year has been a challenge for the organisation, the challenge that matters most is that facing many clients who are struggling to make ends meet.

“As a default place to go this has inevitably placed demand on Rutland Citizens Advice.”

In a county where the total population is just over 34,000 some 2,800 people sought help from Rutland CAB’s 15 advisers based in High Street, Oakham.

Enquiries about Welfare Rights were 41 per cent - 6 per cent above the national average of 35 per cent.

Roy Trotter, interim manager at Rutland CAB’s Oakham office said: “The regulations surrounding Welfare Changes have caused problems for individuals.

“So more people needed help to get the right benefits and negotiate the legal minefield of getting them.

Residents also sought advice on unsecured personal loans, credit cards, overdrafts, council tax, fuel, water and private sector rent arrears.

The overall number of enquiries for debt advice was down on last year’s 18 per cent, but Mr trotter said that was because residents had been “lulled into a false sense of security” by the record low interest rates. A potential rise in interest rates was a debt timebomb which would create problems for many families.

“Debt was a major problem which peaked in 2009/10,” Mr Trotter said. “It has been less prevalent since, but I believe very strongly that it is because people think it is not a problem at present.

“As soon as interest rates rise again it is going to become a big problem.”

One of the most common debt enquiries has been about payday loans.

In one instance an 18-year-old youth who sought advice had accrued eight payday loans online, some of which were charging more than 5000 per cent annual interest.

Mr Trotter said: “I do understand the predicament that some people find themselves in, but there are alternatives to payday loans.

And people who are in urgent need of money should explore other options such as credit unions.”

CAB staff also had a 10 per cent increase in the number of queries about employment last year. The Bureau has now secured the services of employment solicitor Lawson West, to provide a half hour’s free consultation for those seeking work-related help.

Mr Trotter said as fewer banks were lending to smaller business it could be as a result of those employers struggling to survive.

The number enquiries about rent arrears in housing association properties “doubled” last year, which , the Annual Report says, is a direct result of the Bedroom Tax which restricts benefits to under occupied properties.

“As we have a shortage of one bedroom properties in Rutland, it is extremely difficult for single people not to be affected by the new under-occupation rules as it is difficult to downsize,” the Annual Report says.

CAB provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to people on their rights and responsibilities.