'Overwhelming' concerns in cash crisis

DIRE warnings have been issued over the effect the financial crisis is having on the health and wellbeing of Suffolk residents.

Anthony Bond

DIRE warnings have been issued over the effect the financial crisis is having on the health and wellbeing of Suffolk residents.

Citizen's Advice Bureaux (CABs) report being overwhelmed with people seeking financial help and have described the current situation as “alarming” and “scary”.

CAB managers have told of increasing numbers of people losing their jobs as well as employers cutting back hours and wages. There have also been increases in landlords raising their tenants rent.

Nick Mayo, Leiston, Saxmundham CAB Bureau Manager, said: “We are finding that people's health is starting to suffer because of the stress of money worries and relationships are getting strained.

“This is not something that you can look at in isolation and it affects every single aspect of people's lives. It all bundles together and paints a fairly dismal picture.”

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Figures obtained by the EADT reveal the shocking rise in debt problems facing the county's residents.

Felixstowe CAB expects to have dealt with more than £2.2m of new debt on behalf of people by April next year - up from £1.8m for 2007/8.

Between April and September the bureau has helped worried homeowners with £165,000 of mortgage debt - compared to just £13,500 for the whole of the 2007/8 financial year.

And Ipswich CAB has seen a massive increase in the amount of debt it has helped people with - up from £6.5m in 2006/7 to £8.8m in 2007/8.

Other figures include:

-North East Suffolk CAB expects to have dealt with more than 10,000 debts on behalf of clients by April - up from 6,019 the previous year.

- Leiston, Saxmundham CAB dealt with 275 debts in September - up from just 108 in April.

- The average personal debt Leiston, Saxmundham CAB dealt with rocketed from £16,000 in 2006/7 to £25,500 in 2007/8

- The total amount of debt which the bureau dealt with has also risen from £1,039m in 2005/6 to £1,833m in 2007/8

Janet John, district manager at North East Suffolk CAB, described the current situation as “scary”.

“We have got falling employment and falling house prices and escalating debts and at the moment I think that we are in crisis.

“I do not know how people are going to get themselves out of the situation in which they find themselves, simply because if they are on a very limited income and you have got significant debts then they are never going to pay off those debts.”

The regions CABs have also reported an increase in people seeking advice because their employer has made a change to their contract leading to reduced hours and money. At Bury St Edmunds CAB they have seen a 40% increase in people seeking advice on this issue, with queues of concerned people stretching out of the door of the office in Risbygate Street.

Jane Ballard, manager of Bury CAB, said: “Here the one statistic, which leaps out - is a 40% increase in the number of people seeking advice when employers make changes to their contracts.

“Each case is different but there are a lot of issues here but most commonly they are concerned about reduced hours and money. It takes time for things to work through and people are seeing the employers' first response.”

There have also been large increases in landlords trying to increase rent on their tenants. Sudbury CAB now see four times the number of queries on this issue than in July.

Ann Furlonger, Sudbury's CAB manager, said: “Landlords are feeling the pinch and are looking for ways to get their money back. There have been cases of sharp practice but some people just can't afford the rent anymore.”

Mrs Mayo said people should not despair if they are experiencing difficulties. “There is always something that somebody can do,” she said. “If people come to us early rather than later then we are much more able to help them than if the bailiffs are kicking the doors down.”

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