Debt charity warns increase in interest rates could cause financial crisis in Northern Ireland
A debt charity has warned an increase in interest rates could cause "financial crisis" in Northern Ireland, while the Bank of England (BoE) believes the majority of UK homes wouldn't suffer as the result of a rise.
Citizens Advice highlighted householders are in a different economic position than those in London and South East England.
Interest rates are currently at the record low level of 0.5%, with a rise unlikely until late next year.
Kathy McKenna, of Citizens Advice, said that people in Northern Ireland are still suffering from tight household budgets.
"Household incomes fell harder here during the recession and we are seeing more food banks than ever.
"There may be talk of overheating in the London property market, but over here there is a chill wind this winter for many struggling families.
"People are really fearful of what an interest rate rise would mean. For many who have been struggling to hold on, it would bring financial crisis."
An increase in the bank base rate is not expected until around September 2015.
In yesterday's report, the BoE said: "Overall, the evidence does not suggest that gradual increases in interest rates from their current historically low levels would have unusually large effects on household spending."
Ms McKenna however said: "In the past year, Citizens Advice in Northern Ireland helped over 9,500 people deal with approximately £80m of debt.
"In a year when we saw no increase in the base interest rate, we also witnessed a 4.5% increase in people with debt. That tells its own story.
"Our message to the Bank of England and to government is that decisions affecting Northern Ireland households should only be taken when growth appears in people's pay packets - not just on economists' bar graphs."
And Ms McKenna has encouraged consumers to plan ahead for the inevitable rise in interest rates.
"Our message to borrowers is to prepare for future interest rates rises by drawing up a budget, speaking to your lender and seeking free advice," she said.