Simon Read: 'Reach out for help if you're facing decades of debt'

Without help, hard-up people can struggle to cope with their debts for an average of 30 years

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The Independent Online

One of the most worrying aspects of debt is that it's a problem that doesn't disappear quickly. Without help, hard-up people can struggle to cope with their debts for an average of 30 years, a shock new report from a debt-counselling charity reveals.

Christians Against Poverty examined evidence from the past year to discover that the average debt and average income per household of the people it helped were almost the same at just over £13,000.

But those who do reach out for help can avoid 30 years of hell. One possible solution for those facing repayments for more than five years is insolvency or a debt-relief order. Others can get on top of their debts with the right budgeting and money- management advice.

But there are situations where the balance of income to debt is too tight, reckons Mark Cowley, the charity's insolvency advice manager. "Last year, 160 clients would have been paying off their debts for more than 100 years had we not given them the opportunity to clear the debt, mostly through debt-relief orders."

In one shocking case, a woman who earned just enough to cover rent, food and utility bills was left with a disposable income of 1p a month – leaving her debt problems spiralling out of control.

There are many people in dangerous debt who don't seek help. That can be because of pride or embarrassment; some think they have failed, while others believe they need to sort it out for themselves.

Both are wrong. Debt charities are there to help, not judge. Debt can be debilitating but talking about it can be a step towards dealing with it, no matter how desperate your situation seems. "We love tackling the seemingly impossible," says Mr Cowley. "It gives us a real kick to be able to take away a burden like that from someone."

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with debt, do seek help. There is plenty of free advice out there. Start with Christians Against Poverty (Capuk.org) or search for debt charities online.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

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