Money News: Over-60s lead way as Britons pile on the debt

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The Independent Online

Elderly consumers who call debt charity the Consumer Credit Counselling Service owe an average of £33,568 - up by a quarter year-on-year, according to a new "statistical yearbook" on indebted Britain from the CCCS.

This rise in the amount owed last year by those over 60 was the most pronounced among all the age groups tracked by the CCCS, its report said.

Although the charity hasn't yet researched the exact reasons for the increase, it is likely to be down to a change in attitude to debt among older consumers, who have shown they are more prepared to remortgage or take out equity-release plans (see page 20).

The statistical yearbook paints a bleak picture of Britain's debt culture, but the CCCS's chairman, Malcolm Hurlston, doubts the contention that "debt is spiralling out of control" and believes instead that most borrowers are able to meet their credit commitments "without problem".

The number of calls to the charity in 2005 rose by a fifth on the previous year, to 201,145. Clients aged between 40 and 59 - still the biggest indebted group - carried the highest average debt of £34,456. Those aged 18 to 24, the youngest category, owed an average of £15,079. Overall, the average sum owed stood at £30,763, up by 5 per cent on 2004.

Alarmingly, the percentage of clients owing more than £100,000 to creditors - so-called "extreme debt" - rose from 1.4 per cent to 2.7 per cent.

The charity helps clients by tailoring individual debt-management plans, under which part of their salary goes each month to repay creditors.

Fund managers: Finn succeeds the 'star' of Fidelity

The hoopla is almost over. A successor has been announced to Anthony Bolton, one of the UK's "star" managers and head of the Fidelity Special Situations fund, which has 250,000 individual investors.

Jorma Korhonen (pictured above), who comes from Finland and is a little-known manager at the firm, has been appointed as one of the heirs (a second will be announced next year) to Mr Bolton's outperforming fund.

Now worth £6bn, Fidelity Special Situations was set up in 1979; £1,000 invested then would be worth £131,474 today. This winter, the fund is to be split up. Mr Korhonen will run half of it as a global fund investing in companies across different regions.

As for the other half - the remaining £3bn "Special Sits" fund that seeks companies "overlooked" by the markets for spectacular growth - a second successor will be named in due course. Mr Bolton will run this fund until the end of next year.

The enormous fuss over who would take the reins has been caused by the size of the fund, the number of investors with money in it, and worries among independent financial advisers (IFAs) that the replacement wouldn't have Mr Bolton's skills.

IFAs - who recommend funds to individual investors - had expected another star manager with a track record of note to be appointed, rather than the relatively inexperienced Mr Korhonen.

Many investors who have benefited from Mr Bolton's skill will want to know whether to put their money elsewhere.

Mark Dampier of IFA Har-greaves Lansdown said he believed Mr Korhonen should be given a chance - and that it was worth investors keeping their money in place.

Philippa Gee of IFA Torquil Clark was also broadly supportive but said that, if customers wanted to switch their money, similar funds worth considering included Invesco Perpetual UK Aggressive and New Star UK Special Situations.

Buying goods online: Complaints up 75% on overseas orders

Missing items and defective goods lay behind a 75 per cent surge in the number of complaints about purchases ordered online from overseas last year, research from the European Consumer Centre (ECC) has shown.

Out of 3,775 queries handled by the cross-border consumer body, the most common concerned failure to deliver goods (46 per cent), followed by defective products or the wrong goods being delivered (25 per cent).

Nearly one in 10 complaints focused on the retailer taking too much money from consumers' credit cards, and 8 per cent referred to difficulties with the terms of a particular contract, such as being unable to cancel an order.

In light of the volume of complaints, the ECC report called for tougher consumer laws. "It is very difficult for people to pursue claims under the current rules," it said.

Ruth Bamford, a director at the ECC, said: "The law needs to be strengthened so that people can put right things more easily if they go wrong."

Thanks to a recent UK court ruling, consumers who use a credit card to buy goods worth more than £100 from an overseas company can now expect the same protection as if they'd bought in the UK.

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