Belfast Telegraph

Report: household budgets to be squeezed even more in 2012

By Claire McNeilly

Householders here are bracing themselves financially as they fear this year is going to be tougher and grimmer than 2011.

New statistics show that 65% of Northern Ireland people expect their budgets to be harder hit in the coming months.

Disposable incomes are expected to diminish amid increased fuel bills, with many consumers having to turn to money lenders to make ends meet.

A quarter of those who took out payday loans were unable to meet their repayments on time.

The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) released its findings in the first Household Income Tracker for Northern Ireland. ILCU spokeswoman Rosemary O'Doherty said she was concerned that consumers were turning to high interest loans in large numbers.

"I would encourage anyone facing financial difficulties to speak to their credit union first," she said. "Unlike other lenders we are a not-for-profit community owned organisation and exist solely to meet the needs of our members."

The tracker found that 170,000 people (12% of adults) have no money left after paying bills, while 670,000 (44%) have less disposable income compared to last year.

Of the 493,000 (35%) adults who have less than 5% of their income remaining after bills, more than 400,00 admitted they were worried about not being able to meet unforeseen expenses. Rising fuel costs are a concern for 83% of people.

And some 87% of adults revealed that they switch off heating during cold periods to keep bills lower, while half of residents (51%) said they had to make sacrifices to pay for fuel this winter.

The ILCU said a typical Northern Ireland consumer spends £131 on fuel each month, nearly £1,700 a year. It added that fear over the price of fuel means people are turning to payday loan companies and other money lenders.

The findings of the report suggest that over 100,000 people (8%) took out loans to cover bills, with almost a quarter of these loans (23%) from money lenders.

A typical loan amounts to £300, and carries an average interest rate of 95%, leading to a repayment of £586.

Some 14% of those who took out a loan were unable to meet their repayments, the ILCU said.

Similarly, 40,000 Northern Ireland people (4%) have taken out payday loans to cover essentials such as food and bills - of them, 26% did so to buy food.

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