Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In Debt UK

British households owe almost £19bn in utility bills, missed council tax payments and overpaid benefits, revealing a hidden debt mountain facing the country. While the Bank of England is responsible for tracking the rise in borrowing from high street banks, there are no official figures for missed bill payments.

 The estimate from Citizens Advice comes as UK households are under increasing financial pressure. The charity said missed bill payments had overtaken credit card troubles as the key money problem faced by consumers. Citizens Advice said as much as £18.9bn was owed to the government and utility companies for bills such as water, gas and electricity, as well as unpaid taxes and fines. From the overall debt pile it uncovered, the vast majority related to bills owed to the state. Households owed more than £10bn last year in tax credits and benefits where the government had overpaid them and then demanded repayment, while councils were owed almost £3bn in council tax arrears. The charity found water companies were owed £2.2bn by consumers falling behind with their bills, while electricity and gas providers were owed almost £1.1bn.

 Borrowing reached £213bn in June, rising much faster than workers’ pay. High levels of inflation since the Brexit vote has pushed up the cost of living in Britain and sluggish wage growth and government benefit cuts have added to the squeeze on households. Citizens Advice estimates the total value of missed bill payments has risen by 34% since 2010. Calling on the government to face up to the scale of the problem, the charity said ministers should commit to measuring and reporting on the levels of household debt on an annual basis.

 It also called for tighter regulation of the bailiff industry to provide greater protections for people struggling with their bills. MPs on the Treasury committee said in July the debt collection practices of public authorities have often been described as the “worst in class”, with debts pursued overzealously and with routine recourse to bailiffs. Since 2014, Citizens Advice said it had seen problems with bailiffs increase by a quarter. There can be more severe consequences for people missing bill payments. Consumers can find themselves cut off by utility providers, evicted from their home because of rent arrears or jailed for missing council tax payments.

Household bill problems can have serious knock-on effects for mental healthor lead to additional borrowing. Citizens Advice said more than a third of people are likely to be out of full-time employment and that one in three people have problems with their mental health.
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “There is an air of institutional indifference as far as household bill debts are concerned. The government must get a grip on the scale of this debt by accurately measuring and publishing the figure on an annual basis.”

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