Almost half a million people needed debt advice for the first time in 2021, with nearly 30 per cent already in arrears on their energy bills before the cost of living crisis.
The figures from debt help charity StepChange show that households across the UK were already facing a financial emergency in the wake of the pandemic, before costs began to soar at the end of last year.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Richard Lane, director of external affairs for the organisation. “It’s impossible to look at the characteristics of our clients and their debts in 2021 and not conclude that more help is needed.
“When so many people are already struggling to make ends meet, a steep rise in the cost of living means debt becomes inevitable for many,” he added. “Debt advice services this year are going to be vital to help people navigate their best options for managing a difficult situation – but government needs to implement better structural support, too.”
Nearly 40 per cent of the 483,247 people who first approached StepChange for debt support last year were experiencing mental health problems, according to the data.
The number of people who had fallen into arrears on their electricity and gas bills last year – 28 per cent and 23 per cent respectively – was significantly higher than before the Covid-19 crisis when the equivalent figures were 17 per cent and 13 per cent.