Britain becomes 'never, never land' as personal debt runs out of control

UK borrowers account for one third of unsecured debt in western Europe
On average, a Briton has twice the debt of a European
Total consumer debt in the UK is at a record £1.3 trillion
New debt last year came to an unprecedented £215bn
Citizens Advice faced 1.25 million new debt cases last year - the figure is rising

Britain's "buy now, pay later" consumer culture has led to unprecedented levels of personal debt. The average Briton now has more than twice as much unsecured borrowing - including overdrafts, personal loans and credit card debt - as the typical European, according to a report published by Datamonitor.

The market research analysts said yesterday that even before mortgage borrowing was considered, the average Briton owes £3,175, compared to the average debt in Europe of £1,588. Datamonitor said Britons had "an insatiable appetite for credit", taking on new unsecured loans of £215bn last year alone.

Borrowers from the UK now account for a third of all unsecured debt in western Europe, Datamonitor added. Paul Marsh, author of the report, said: "While the UK enjoys a buy-now pay-later culture ... many major European countries have a culture of saving and frugality. Countries such as France and Germany are particularly debt adverse."

The boom in unsecured lending has boosted total consumer debt, including mortgages, to almost £1.3trn, close to three times the level of borrowing in 1997, when Labour came to power.

The consumer borrowing crisis is set to become the most pressing concern for Gordon Brown's successor as Chancellor of the Exchequer. George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, said: "Gordon Brown is presiding over an economy increasingly built on debt. This has left many families vulnerable to the triple blow of rising mortgage rates, taxes and energy bills."

The debt crisis is even hitting young borrowers, according to separate research published yesterday by One Advice, the debt advisers. The company said the average 18 to 24-year-old now owes £2,860 in unsecured borrowing. One Advice said the average figures obscured worrying individual cases. It said 108,000 18 to 24-year-olds had credit card debts of more than £5,000.

There are increasingly worrying signs that many borrowers are struggling to stay on top of repayments. The average person has debts that total 150 per cent of their annual income, according to the Bank of England, half as much again as in 1997.

The Bank believes around one million households face problems coping with debt repayments - around 10 per cent of the four in 10 households that have unsecured borrowing.

A report from Citizens Advice earlier this month said 770,000 mortgage borrowers had missed at least one mortgage repayment over the past year, while two million homeowners said they were concerned their finances would not stretch to cover their debts.

The charity said younger people were particularly vulnerable, with mortgage-holders aged 21 to 24 the most likely to default.

The latest figures from the Government's Insolvency Service, published last month, have also unnerved debt campaigners. The numbers becoming insolvent in the second quarter of the year reached 26,000, a 66 per cent rise on the same period in 2005.

Borrowing difficulties have already begun to affect the housing market. Britain's housing boom has saddled newer homeowners with far larger mortgages. Figures from the Hay Group consultancy , published yesterday, showed the typical borrower now spends 51 per cent of monthly pay on mortgage repayments.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders said the number of homes repossessed in the first half of the year was 8,140, the most for more than five years.

At the same time, there is evidence that Britain's biggest banks, which have all reported a rise in bad debt in recent months, are cracking down on consumer credit. Two weeks ago, for example, HSBC said it would introduce annual reviews of all its customers' overdrafts, with cuts to many borrowers' overdraft limits likely to follow.

Alice Douglas, 42, writer: 'We were happy with a £60 TV. Now we spend £1,500'

"Seven years ago, I moved to Wales for a change of lifestyle," says Alice Douglas, 42, a writer from Snowdonia. "I bought a 4,000 sq ft church for £54,000, which was incredibly cheap, because it needed renovation work, but I had never done a big building project before. I thought I'd be able to do the structural work for £80,000 but I've had to spend £300,000. I didn't think of the cost, and even things like floor tiles for the kitchen ended up costing £5,000 because they were limestone, and I spent £25,000 on windows.

"I used every credit card I could get. At one point, I had 10 different credit cards with £8,000 on most of them, so that my debt was up to £60,000. It was all about to collapse until my mortgage company valued my property, which has massively increased in price.

"I still have about £30,000 on my credit cards, but I've just learned to juggle them. Once you've got them, there's too much temptation and you get used to a lifestyle where you want to have lots of things. We used to be happy with a £60 television set, but now we spend £1,500 on a 38-inch LCD.

"You get sucked into it, and get used to spending large amounts without thinking about it, because it's on a card. It does make a different because it doesn't feel like real money. If it did feel real, it would feel obscene. I went to London recently and spent £3,000 in Whistles, on clothes. I'm about to buy another property with an 85 per cent mortgage and I'll get the deposit on credit card.

"It's a gamble but it could pay off. If you're shrewd, you can use it to your advantage. My credit rating is very good because I borrow a lot but I'm able to make my payments. It used to stress me out but now I think, if I lose everything, it wouldn't be the end of the world."

Arifa Akbar

Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

    Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

    £300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

    Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

    Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

    £475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game