Press release: One in six adults struggling with debt worries

Thursday 10 March 2016

  • Renters, young people and those with large families are most vulnerable to problem debt
  • Households in Sandwell, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil have the highest levels of over-indebtedness
  • The South East and Scotland have the lowest proportion of over-indebted residents

One in six UK adults are living with problem debt.

A major study, based on a model developed by the Money Advice Service and CACI, estimates the levels of over-indebtedness in the UK. For the first time, the model[i] gives every UK adult a statistical likelihood of being over-indebted, based on a number of factors and characteristics – including tenancy, age, household make up and income. This data gives a picture of ‘over-indebtedness’, indicating where people have either fallen behind with their bills in at least three of the last six months or feel that their debts are a heavy burden.

The findings reveal that renting a property indicates that you are twice as likely to be over-indebted as those owning their home (25% versus 12%). Around 16 million people in the UK rent their home with one in four (4.1 million) of them living with debt problems. For those renting a social housing property this likelihood increases to nearly one in three (29% versus 21% privately renting).

Young adults aged 25-34 are the age group most likely to be living with a debt problem. Among 25-34 year olds, one in four live with debt problems (2.1 million) – the highest likelihood of all the age bands. The research shows that the likelihood of debt problems peaks at this age, and doesn’t begin to fall significantly until the 55-64 age band.

While having children increases the probability of debt problems by more than 50%[ii], the analysis suggests that there is a particularly strong relationship between debt and having three or more children. Whilst 19% of adults with one or two children are over-indebted, this rises to 26% among adults with three or more children.

At the same time, it is estimated that one in four (28% or 1 million) single parents in the UK are living with problem debt. This is almost twice the national average, and one and a half times more likely than two parent families.

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Head of Debt Advice at the Money Advice Service said: “This research breaks new ground, providing us with the most up to date look at levels of problem debt across the UK. We estimate that 8.2 million UK adults suffer with financial worries — with younger adults, larger families and single parents noticeably at higher risk.

“We are working with our delivery partners* to ensure that debt advice is easy to access across the UK, especially in more vulnerable areas such as Wales and Northern Ireland — but for this to really have the greatest impact, we need to make sure those who need support are aware that this help is available.

“We know that debt advice works but currently, only one in five people with financial difficulties seek advice. Today we are calling on everyone with problem debt or money worries, no matter how large or small, to access free advice as soon as possible.”

People who would like help to get their finances back on track can use the Debt Advice Locator Tool to find free, impartial help in their area.

For the full A Picture of Over-Indebtedness report, which includes a breakdown of the findings by local authority, visit Money Advice Service at

[i] To do this, 16,000 adults were compared to identify the differing characteristics between those over-indebted and those who were not. These factors were used to build a model that could be applied to the UK population.

[ii] Having children increases the probability of debt problems by more than 50% from 13% for those with no children, to 20% for adults with at least one child


Table 1. The 10 most over-indebted local authorities

Ranking Local authority UK region Percentage of people with debt in this area
1 Sandwell West Midlands 24.7%
2 Blaenau Gwent Wales 24.3%
3 Merthyr Tydfil Wales 24.1%
4 Newham London 23.8%
5 Derry and Strabane Northern Ireland 23.8%
6 Barking and Dagenham London 23.0%
7 Belfast Northern Ireland 22.9%
8 Tower Hamlets London 22.9%
9 Kingston upon Hull Yorkshire and The Humber 21.9%
10 Rhondda Cynon Taf Wales 21.9%
N/a N/a UK average 16.1%

Table 2. The 10 least over-indebted local authorities

Ranking Local authority UK region Percentage of people with debt in this area
1 East Renfrewshire Scotland 10.1%
2 East Dorset South West 10.1%
3 East Dunbartonshire Scotland 10.1%
4 Elmbridge South East 10.2%
5 Mole Valley South East 10.3%
6 South Bucks South East 10.6%
7 Chiltern South East 10.6%
8 Epsom and Ewell South East 10.6%
9 Aberdeenshire Scotland 10.7%
10 Hart South East 10.7%
N/a N/a UK average 16.1%

*Debt advice is provided by the following partners:

England and Wales

  • Citizens Advice
  • East Midlands Money Advice
  • Capitalise
  • Money Advice West
  • Greater Merseyside Money Advice


  • Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB)

Northern Ireland

  • Department of Enterprise and Trade NI

Additional partners

  • StepChange Debt Charity
  • Money Advice Trust

Our Q3 performance results (Oct – Dec 2015) reported that over 89,000 people received debt advice through our funded partners across the UK. Year-on-year, debt advice sessions increased by 35 per cent and 79,000 of the 89,000 people who sought debt advice went on to take a positive action to better manage their debts. There was a 38 percent rise in the number of actions to manage debt well year-on-year.

As part of our 2016/17 business plan we aim to:

  • Fund help for 425,000 heavily indebted people (15% more than in 2015/16) and provide more capacity in the free debt advice sector by funding new telephone helpline capacity.
  • By 2020 we will double the proportion of indebted people who seek debt advice from 17% to 34%.
  • We will run a series of tests with specific target groups of over-indebted people to encourage them to seek advice before their debts become a serious problem.


The Money Advice Service (MAS) commissioned CACI to build a model that could accurately estimate the levels of over-indebtedness across the United Kingdom.

To do this, CACI took a sample of adults known to be over-indebted, and identified characteristics where they differ from adults who are not over-indebted. They then used these characteristics to build a model that can predict how likely someone is to be over-indebted. Finally, the model was applied across the country to produce national and regional estimates of over-indebtedness.

The sample of over-indebted people was taken from a number of research surveys, and the data used in the model came from CACI’s Ocean database. Ocean contains demographic, behavioural and lifestyle information for 50 million adults in the United Kingdom.

For media enquiries contact:

  • Sinead Meckin, Dan Thompson or Georgia McDonald at Third City on 0203 657 9773 or

About the Money Advice Service

The Money Advice Service is an independent organisation. It gives free, unbiased money advice online at, free phone on 0800 138 7777. Debt advice is also provided through a variety of partners across the UK. The Service was set up by Government and is paid for by a statutory levy on the financial services industry, raised through the Financial Conduct Authority. Its statutory objectives are to enhance the understanding and knowledge of members of the public about financial matters (including the UK financial system); and to enhance the ability of members of the public to manage their own financial affairs.