CAB: 'Money worries mounting'

FEARS have been voiced about mounting money woes in Suffolk after Citizens' Advice Bureaux said they handled more than £25m of personal debt in the last year.

FEARS have been voiced about mounting money woes in Suffolk after Citizens' Advice Bureaux said they handled more than £25m of personal debt in the last year.

The harsh economic climate, a rise in the cost of living and the failure of wages to keep pace are all being blamed for the massive hike.

One area had even seen a 35 fold increase in the amount attributed to housing arrears compared to just two years ago.

In 2007/08 Leiston, Saxmundham and District Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) dealt with £503,262 of housing debt - related to mortgages and rent arrears.

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This compares to £204,265 in 2006/07 and just £13,948 in 2005/06 - a 35 fold difference when up against last year's figures.

The total amount of debt handled by the CAB, which also covers Woodbridge, Wickham Market, Framlingham and Rendlesham, was £1.8m in the last financial year - up from £1.6m in 06/07 and £1m in 05/06.

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Nick Mayo, manager at Leiston, Saxmundham and District, said: “The economy in general is a problem - everybody is being squeezed. Petrol costs, housing costs, general living costs - they're all going up but wages are not keeping pace.

“People take out a mortgage in the hope they can keep up with the payments but if they lose their job or become ill then they will be in trouble. We are increasingly seeing people who fall into this category.

“When times are good it is not a problem but when things turn bad you can end up losing your home. It's not just the debts but also real issues with relationships - stress, bad tempers - it makes people unhappy and ashamed. It's a very unpleasant place to be.”

Ms Mayo said irresponsible lending was also a problem as many people were persuaded to put their houses up as a guarantee.

She said the earlier people came to seek advice with the CAB the easier it was to help them out.

“For example we can get mortgage repayments held for three or six months - giving people extra breathing space to get back on their feet,” she said.

Elsewhere Thetford and Diss CAB saw a £2m rise in the amount of debt it dealt with, after £5m rose in 06/07 rose to £7m in the last year.

Bury St Edmunds went from £2.3m worth of debt in 05/06, to £3.2m in 06/07 and £3.8m in 07/08.

Meanwhile Mid Suffolk CAB, which covers towns including Stowmarket, Needham Market and Eye, handled £2.7m worth of debt last financial year.

North East Suffolk CAB, which is for the Waveney district and includes the towns of Beccles, Bungay, Lowestoft and Halesworth, dealt with £10m in 07/08 - bringing the overall total to £25.3m.

Jane Ballard, manager at Bury St Edmunds, said debt was the biggest single area of advice and made up 30% of enquiries.

“In recent months we have certainly seen a rise - there is no question about that,” she said. “People have fewer and fewer resources and they haven't been able to save so they are getting themselves into difficulties.

“As soon as someone realises they are having problems they should get in touch, we can give them a debt pack and can start to negotiate payments.”

Martin Davis, manager at Mid Suffolk CAB, added: “Debt is up on last year and we're certainly seeing an increase in the number of cases. During a boom period people borrow but it only takes a change in the economic climate or their capacity to earn and then they are running into difficulties.”

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