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

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

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

    Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

    £18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

    ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

    £60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

    Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

    £60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

    Project Coordinator - 12 month contract

    £27000 - £32000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large charity ...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past