South West debt crisis as more than 50 a day become insolvent
The Westcountry continues to be a "horror story" of debt as more than 50 adults became insolvent each working day across the region in the last 12 months.
The South West has seen more than 13,000 insolvencies in the last 12 months. It works out as a ratio of 31 per 10,000 adults – far higher than the national ratio of 26.
According to the figures from accountancy and advisory firm RSM Tenon, the South West represented 12% of all personal insolvencies in the second quarter of 2012. It was up 2% on the previous quarter but a 3% decrease on the same quarter in 2011.
The news comes as official figures yesterday showed personal insolvencies have fallen to a four-year low, despite the toughening economy.
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Steve Meakin, money advice co-ordinator for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Devon and Cornwall, emphasised that insolvency could mean anything from bankruptcy to voluntary arrangements where creditors will be paid part of what they are owed. He said the figures for the Westcountry had actually dropped significantly over the past three years, because personal credit was harder to obtain. But he said the region still remains at the top of the pile in terms of the "dreadfully high" proportion of people who are dealing with debt problems.
"The South West has two elements that really put stress and strain on people," he said. "It's the combination of relatively high housing prices, and high levels of part-time or seasonal work which tends to be low paid."
He singled out Torbay as repeatedly registering high on lists of debt-ridden areas because of the economic reliance on tourism. Plymouth and Cornwall always come close behind, he said. "When you look at the South West as a whole, it's pretty much a horror story."
But he said debtors were now faced with new pressures, including the temptation of "pay day lenders" which offer relatively small sums at high interest rates, designed to be paid back over short periods.
"The explosion of this type of lending has been absolutely astronomical," Mr Meakin said. "The problem is that you can be tempted by something in a shop window, tap into an app on your smart phone and 20 minutes later the money is in your bank. It's that quick."
He said low-income households were also feeling more strain in terms of living standards. Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the average income is expected to drop by more than 7 per cent. Historically over the same period, incomes would have been expected to rise by 22%. We expect to get better off over time, but in fact we're just being squeezed," he said. "It means it's harder for people to service existing debts."
In the last year, the charity Consumer Credit Counselling Service has named Cornwall as the number one county for insolvencies, with Devon at number three and Dorset and Somerset both in the top ten nationally.
Spokesman Una Sarrall urged anyone who is having problems to seek help early. She said danger signs included using credit cards for living expenses or to pay other debts, but she said: "Even if you are worried, make a phone call. The best-case scenario is that you don't have a problem, but if you do, it's best to tackle it before the debt collectors come knocking."
Meanwhile, the Insolvency Service yesterday revealed that, despite the toughening economy, personal insolvencies have fallen to a four-year low.
Official figures show bankruptcies are at their lowest since 2003, with 8,088 bankruptcy orders made in the second quarter of this year, representing a 27% drop on a year ago, the Insolvency Service report showed.
The service said that bankruptcy numbers have been affected by the introduction of debt relief orders (DROs), which have risen to reach a similar level to bankruptcies for the first time.
DROs, which were introduced in 2009 and are often dubbed "bankruptcy light", reached a new high in the second quarter of this year at 7,956, an increase of almost 10% on a year ago.