Suffolk's debt problem 'worsening'

THE level of personal debt in Suffolk is a problem that advice services are struggling to cope with, a groundbreaking summit has heard.The scale of the problem emerged at yesterday's meeting - believed to be the first of its kind in the county - which heard from a range of experts, including those on finance and personal debt.

THE level of personal debt in Suffolk is a problem that advice services are struggling to cope with, a groundbreaking summit has heard.

The scale of the problem emerged at yesterday's meeting - believed to be the first of its kind in the county - which heard from a range of experts, including those on finance and personal debt.

The Citizens Advice Bureau revealed that debt work now accounts for approximately 30% of its activity - and it said that “demand is growing quicker than our ability to respond”.

But while the organisation would like to increase the service it provides across Suffolk, it said a lack of funding was affecting its ability to do so.


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A report submitted to the meeting - which was designed to scrutinise the state of credit and debt services in county - warned: “Some bureaux may have to curtail their existing money advice unless they obtain additional funding.”

Citizens Advice said the complexity of the debt problem was growing, with it now linked closely with other issues such as benefit overpayment, fraud, relationship breakdowns and health problems.

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During 2005-6, the organisation dealt with new debt in Bury of £2.3million, Mid Suffolk of £3.2m and £5.6m in Ipswich. The problem is still growing this year, with Felixstowe dealing with more than £1m already and Leiston with £830,000.

The Citizens Advice report said: “We believe that the problems associated with debt and credit will continue to grow. The problems affect all income levels.

“Given that Suffolk is a rural community we are concerned that parts of the county suffer from financial and social exclusion.”

Citizens Advice was one of the organisations that submitted information to the summit, which was under the umbrella of the county council's public protection scrutiny committee.

Members also heard evidence from specialists in finance, trading standards officers and also drug and alcohol specialists.

John Field, chairman of the committee, said after the meeting: “Clearly there is a need for more capacity in some of these bodies that deal with this sort of issue.

“At the moment needs are not being met across the piece but good work is being done and that work, at first sight, could be better funded.”

However, he said it was too early to say where the funding could come from, adding that the challenge was to find suggestions that were not “horrendously costly”.

He added it was “very clear” the council had a role to play, for example frontline staff that visit people could signpost them to groups that could help them tackle their problems, along with housing associations and district and borough councils as landlords.

The committee will meet six times to hear evidence on credit and debt before producing a report for submission to councillors, the finance industry and Government. The results of the report will be published in January 2007.

rebecca.sheppard@eadt.co.uk

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