Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Rise in debt claims a cause for concern

Editor's Viewpoint

The sharp increase in the number of judgments in the small claims court for debts - up to a six-year high - is a worrying indication that many are struggling to meet their financial obligations.

While some claims refer to compensation for faulty goods and services, others cover areas like unpaid rent or fees owed to childminders.

However, money owed on hire purchase agreements - a common source of default - is not included in the statistics, which could mean that the debt trend is even worse than the bald figures suggest.

The rise in claims has to be seen in the context that a lot of consumer spending has been fuelled by unsecured borrowings, according to the Bank of England. It appears that such borrowing has now reached the level it was at before the financial crash a decade ago.

While banks were extremely diligent in their lending criteria after the crash, it seems that the rules have been relaxed somewhat, raising fears that another serious financial blip could be on the way.

However, some analysts feel that the number of cases brought in the small claims court could also be an indication that those owed money feel the economy is sufficiently robust - and the debtors sufficiently flush - to give them a good chance of recovering debts which have been outstanding for some time.

But, whatever the reasons, it has to be realised that behind every statistic is a story of someone living on the edge. It is easy to categorise debtors as uncaring, but in many instances they can be enduring real economic hardship and certainly the austerity measures introduced by the government and the private sector's clampdown on pay have meant that even some of those in work are now worse off than they were a few years ago.

Those who do pay up should take heed of the warning from one analyst who says that notification that a debt has been cleared does not appear automatically and could seriously affect people's credit rating.

They should take steps to ensure that credit rating companies are told of debts which are cleared as soon as that happens, and those involved can then begin to rebuild their financial profile.

While a good credit rating can make borrowing easier and cheaper, the downside is that circumstances can change and debts can be accrued, starting a vicious circle which could end up in court.

The evidence is that more and more people are finding themselves with that problem.

Belfast Telegraph

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