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Suffolk: Families admit debts are a ‘heavy burden’ as figures show 90,000 people in county have fallen at least three months behind with their bills

12:33 21 January 2014

Darren Bullen, manager of the West Suffolk branch of Christians Against Poverty (CAP)

Darren Bullen, manager of the West Suffolk branch of Christians Against Poverty (CAP)

Almost 90,000 people in Suffolk are seriously concerned about their debts and have fallen at least three months behind with their bills in the last year, according to a new report.

This startling figure comes off the back of a major survey undertaken by the Money Advice Service (MAS) which focused on the complexities of life in debt.

One expert who works with people in debt has even revealed there are people in Suffolk who have gone without food in order to be able to pay to heat their homes.

The MAS ranked 406 local authorities by the percentage of the population that is over-indebted, which it defines as individuals who have been at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months or have said they feel their debts are a heavy burden.

Ipswich was ranked 84th with 25.4% of the population over-indebted, Forest Heath was ranked 170 with 17%, and St Edmundsbury was ranked 218 with 13.5%.

Using population data from the 2011 census, the debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) analysed the figures to reveal 88,668 adults in Suffolk are affected by over-indebtedness.

Christmas and the New Year is often a time when over-spending is a weight on many people’s minds – especially when the bills start coming in during January.

Darren Bullen, manager of CAP’s West Suffolk Centre, which is based at Great Barton Free Church, said he did not think Christmas was solely responsible for debt, but added: “I think it can be a tipping point.”

In the two years since the CAP’s West Suffolk Centre opened its doors they have made appointments with about 120 people, and Mr Bullen said the expectation is for client numbers to “increase markedly” in coming months as the recent welfare changes start to bite.

He said: “Gas and electricity is a big issue and the news is we should expect it to go up and up and up.

“That’s definitely making a big difference for people, and this so-called fuel poverty now is really becoming a reality for many people.

“I know some of my clients have gone without food to put heat in the house.

“It’s a privilege to go and visit some of these people and offer some help for them, but there’s some very sad stories out there.”

CAP helps clients by dealing with all the letters they receive about their debts on their behalf and they are set a budget with a timescale of how long it looks likely to be until they are debt-free.

The charity recently launched its ‘Don’t Wait’ campaign as millions of people in the UK are suffering from debt, but only a small proportion are actually seeking help.

Mr Bullen said: “We were quite overwhelmed when we opened the centre [in west Suffolk] how quickly we got people coming through because the statistics show you people do take maybe up to three years to actually pluck up that courage to do it, to make the choice. It is hard. It’s embarrassing. There’s a lot of humility needed to do it.”

He said research carried out by CAP showed people in East Anglia are finding it the hardest in England to deal with levels of problem personal debts.

He said low levels of income and comparatively high levels of debt meant people in this region struggle the most to pay back what they owe, which was more likely to force them down the insolvency route.

He said the West Suffolk Centre had the privilege of seeing at least 13 clients go debt-free.

CAP, which also has centres in Haverhill and Ipswich in Suffolk, has been operating for 17 years.

For more information visit www.capuk.org or call 0800 328 0006.

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