Sunderland families ‘drowning in a sea of debt’

Peter Marshall, Money Advice Supervisor for Sunderland Citizens Advice Bureau.
Peter Marshall, Money Advice Supervisor for Sunderland Citizens Advice Bureau.
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ALARMING figures today reveal 48 Wearsiders a week are seeking help as they drown in a sea of debt.

Payday loans and cheap, unsecured loans are leaving some on the brink of suicide as they struggle to keep their heads above water.

Now, financial experts in the city say the problem is spiralling as more cash-strapped residents turn to easy access loans, charging interests rates of up to 3000 per cent.

Meanwhile, Sunderland’s mental health charities expressed fears the situation is only going to “get worse”.

Figures from Sunderland’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) reveal staff dealt with 2,500 cases of unsecured loans during 2012. Many of these included those who had fallen into trouble from payday lending.

Peter Marshall, money advice supervisor at the city’s CAB, said: “All our caseworkers are now dealing with more payday loans issues than ever before.

“Our concern is that, with all benefits changes coming up, more and more people are going to find themselves in a situation where they are turning to payday loans in order to keep things going. What then happens is the debt snowballs from one week to the next until it becomes unmanageable.

“We are worried about the fact these loans are so readily available to people and there is not much attention paid to their affordability.”

Experts say many of those taking out these type of loans are left frightened and trapped because they don’t understand their rights as borrowers.

Mr Marshall said: “People think they are going to go to prison if they can’t meet the payments. They are scared and feel threatened sometimes.”

Support organisations across the city say they have been inundated with callers in recent months expressing concerns about loans and debt. Some are so desperate, they are suicidal.

The city’s branch of the Samaritans warned just months ago that many people were struggling to cope in the current economic climate.

Sixty-two per cent of people surveyed for the charity’s annual survey put money and debt concerns in their top five worries.

Allan Monkhouse, director of Sunderland Samaritans, today said: “Financial concerns have been extremely relevant in the calls we’ve been receiving recently. We’ve seen an increase in this type of caller and we are concerned about it.”

Mental Health charity Sunderland Mind, based in Norfolk Street, say it has been dealing with more people being left depressed because of financial worries.

Judy Phillips, chairman of the charity, said: “More people are accessing our services because of the financial crisis we are seeing, and it’s only going to get worse. Many have increased the loans they already have and this is leaving many depressed and stressed.”

The former Bishop of Durham Bishop and Archbishop of Canterbury-to-be, Justin Welby has also been outspoken in his efforts to persuade the Government to change the law on limiting interest charges.

Campaigners now want to see people given more education about how to manage money which might help flag up the pitfalls of what at first sight seems like a straightforward way to get some fast cash.

Tyne and Wear also currently has the second highest rate of insolvencies in England and Wales.

Twitter: @craigjourno