Since 2004, at least eight people have killed themselves after their debts spiralled out of control.
A senior banking executive said yesterday that the problem was even bigger than previously believed, and called for new laws to be introduced so that criminal charges could be brought against banks that lend money irresponsibly.
The woman, a senior employee at one of the UK's big five banks, said debt-related suicides were a direct consequence of policies designed to lure customers deeper into debt.
She said on BBC1's Britain's Streets of Debt series: "These tragic cases where people have taken their own lives are the cost that is paid for irresponsible lending practices. This is exactly why the banks need to be curbed. The banks are basically neglecting their duty of care. They are putting profits before human life, almost."
The programme features the case of Mark McDonald, 43, who threw himself under a train in 2005 having run up extensive debts with the Royal Bank of Scotland. Although he earned only £26,000 per year, Mr McDonald was able to borrow £120,000 through credit cards, loans and remortgaging his home.
Speaking anonymously for fear of legal action, the executive said that such customers are known as "revolvers" in the industry. Banks are keen to retain them because they are more likely to pay penalty fees as a result of going over their credit limit, she said.
Using sophisticated marketing, banks target such customers to make them borrow more heavily, she said. Without seeking permission some banks increase their customers' credit limit twice a year.
"It's a very, very sophisticated, tailored, tested marketing strategy and sales pitch to a public that have very little knowledge of what is going on," she said.
Mr McDonald's widow, Marion, said: "The Royal Bank of Scotland were totally uncaring, totally reckless. They just wanted to make money."Reuse content