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"Government need to get a grip on scale of household debt", Citizens Advice responds to National Audit Office report

6 September 2018

On 21 August, Citizens Advice released research estimating households across the UK owe an estimated £18.9 billion to essential service providers and government.

Since 2014, problems with household bill debts have overtaken consumer credit as the key money problem people bring to the charity. Of the people we helped with household bill debt last year, almost 1 in 3 people (34%) also had a mental health problem.

Household bill debt issues were twice as likely to be related to the way debts are collected than consumer credit debt issues (29% compared to 15%). 42,000 people came to Citizens Advice with 90,000 (89,622) issues in the last year.

In response to the NAO's report, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

"The finger is now being firmly pointed at government to get a grip on the scale of household debt. No one has a clear picture of this and we know people we help with these problems tend to be in a more precarious financial position than those with consumer credit debts.

"Unless the government starts to collect and report annually on the level of household debt, it will be impossible for them to even begin addressing the problems that result from people's financial difficulties.

"Daily, we see the impact that falling behind on essential bills has on people and the NAO's findings around this are concerning.

"The NAO is also right to say the government is lagging behind industry by persisting with poor collection practices. Our evidence shows aggressive tactics by bailiffs cause huge distress and can even push people further into debt. There needs to be an independent bailiff regulator to address this broken system."

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice is made up of a network of local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and the national charity Citizens Advice.

  2. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers.

  3. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.

  4. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free and independent support for both prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.

  5. Citizens Advice also offers Pension Wise appointments at 500 locations across England and Wales.

  6. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  7. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk

  8. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  9. Last year we helped over 2.7 million people face to face, by phone, email or web chat. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  10. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.