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Consumers warned to choose wisely over which debts to pay off first

Published 08/06/2016

Consumers are urged to prioritise which bills they need to pay
Consumers are urged to prioritise which bills they need to pay

Many people could be placing themselves at greater risk of losing their home and being visited by bailiffs if they choose the wrong debts to pay off first, Citizens Advice warns.

A survey from the charity found 28% of people would pay off consumer credit debts - such as credit card bills, personal loans or overdraft repayments - ahead of household bills like rent, mortgage or utility bills.

Citizens Advice said the priority for people should always be to pay off household bills first, to keep a roof over their heads and avoid being cut off from energy supplies.

It said that many consumer credit debt creditors - like credit card companies or other lenders - often "shout the loudest", making people believe they should be repaid first.

The charity said its latest figures show that more people are seeking help with household bills such as rent, council tax, fuel and water debts.

In the last year, 43% of the debt issues Citizens Advice helped with have related to essential household bills, with 567,000 issues, compared with 34% five years ago, when 452,000 issues were dealt with.

The proportion of debt issues relating to rent arrears that Citizens Advice has helped with has increased since 2011 from 6% to 10%, while the proportion relating to council tax has also increased, from 9% to 16%.

Meanwhile, the proportion of people seeking help from the charity with consumer credit problems has been decreasing.

Since 2011, the proportion of debt issues relating to credit cards has fallen from 16% to 11% and the proportion of debt issues relating to personal loan problems has fallen from 15% to 9%.

Citizens Advice is urging anyone who is struggling to stay on top of their bills and credit commitments to seek help soon, to stop debts escalating and avoid the serious consequences of non-payment.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Falling behind on household bills can have serious consequences.

"From getting the power cut off to bailiffs knocking at your door, to losing your home or even prison - failing to pay household bills can put people in vulnerable situations."

The charity surveyed more than 2,100 people across the UK for the research.

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