A SCOTTISH debt advice charity saw more than 3000 visits to its website on Christmas Day, the Sunday National can reveal.
And on the first working day of the New Year, StepChange reported more than 23,000 visits to its webpage – with a full advice session given to 758 people either over the phone or via the web.
“That was a higher daily total of clients advised than we saw during any day during the whole of 2022,” said Sharon Bell, head of StepChange.
“We are seeing really quite high numbers and we are expecting numbers to grow over the next few weeks, so it is worrying. It is also insightful that people are so worried that they are having to get debt advice on Christmas Day when they should be celebrating with their families. It’s a sad state of affairs.”
Bell said that around one third of the charity’s clients had a deficit budget or a “broken budget”, meaning they do not have enough income to cover their daily costs.
The cost of heating and lighting is a particular worry, with some people already “thousands of pounds” in arrears. Some are so desperate they are even cutting out costs like home insurance.
“That is a big worry at a time of year when you can get flooding and burst pipes and those kind of issues,” said Bell. “Some have stopped making payments to their life insurance and if they have cars we are having to tell them that they legally have to have that insurance.”
The charity is also seeing a growing number of people worried about the amount of money they are paying on their mortgages after interest rates rose just before Christmas.
“They are starting to see those larger mortgage payments coming out of their accounts and we are also seeing the impact of the higher utility costs,” said Bell.
“We have not gone through the whole winter yet with these costs so we are still to find out the full ramifications. We are seeing people coming with thousands of pounds of arrears already and no way of paying it back. It is a long time to spring when you can naturally have heating off, so it is a big worry.”
Families are having to decide between putting the heating on or eating, with parents going without in order to feed their children or put the heating on.
“We are hearing stories about only having candles lit, or trying to cook something on the hob with one pot,” Bell said. “People are trying every way possible to minimise what they are spending on utility costs. Food costs are huge as well.
“With some things it is ridiculous how much they have increased. That is just not sustainable.”
She added that while people were looking at all sorts of ways to save money, for example by shopping around or going to charity shops, there was a limit to what they could do.
“There are certain things you have to pay such as rent and council tax and in the spring council tax will go up, some government help will run out and the cost of fuel is expected to increase,” Bell pointed out.
She said it was important for those with worries about debt to know they are not alone and help is available.
“People might not know where to look but we can help direct them to the right place and give them the right information. There may be ways they can maximise their income whether through other benefits, grants or trust funds and it is also worth looking at how they can possibly cut down on costs.
"The important thing is for people to realise not alone and there is help out there,” said Bell.
Get online advice now at www.stepchange.org/scotland or call 0800 138 1111 (Monday to Friday 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-4pm).