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Bankruptcy misery on the rise in Ulster

The number of people going bust in Northern Ireland is rocketing as the so-called 'human recession' takes its toll, an economist has said.

The province had 692 personal insolvencies - in the form of bankruptcy orders and individual voluntary arrangements with creditors - between January and April this year, compared to 554 in the same period in 2010.

They reached a record peak of 2461 in 2010, a 19% increase on the same time a year earlier.

A bankruptcy order lasts for a year.

But in some cases, a person facing high levels of debt can also agree payment plans with creditors, known as individual voluntary arrangements.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said more people were going bankrupt as rising unemployment and the escalating cost of living took their toll.

"This is not unexpected and it's further evidence that while some say there is recovery in some parts of the economy, such as manufacturing, there's no sign of the human recession ending soon."

He said he feared there could be worse to come.

"Worryingly, these figures come before the public expenditure cuts and cuts in benefits which we can expect this financial year. All these factors are squeezing household budgets."

Maria Glover, an insolvency solicitor at Napier & Sons in Belfast said the figures also reflected changing attitudes to bankruptcy from a social stigma to a practical form of debt relief.

"Certainly bankruptcy was something that was very much feared whenever I started in practice over six years ago.

"It's now a situation where every family or community knows someone who's been affected by financial difficulty and public perception has changed.

"A lot of the mystique and fear has been replaced by a fresh understanding of bankruptcy as a form of debt relief.

"In the past bankruptcy was very much a creditor-driven process.

"But current trends reflect a dramatic increase in the number of individuals applying to make themselves bankrupt voluntarily using debtors' petitions."

Ms Glover also said the causes of bankruptcy had changed from people getting into so-called 'consumer debt' through the likes of buying from catalogues and credit cards to people facing difficulties as a result of the property market.