Press release: £96 billion of debt hidden from friends and family

Monday 12th November 2018

  • The average amount of hidden debt1 in the UK stands at £4,164
  • Almost a third (29%) admit that their partner does not know about all of their debts
  • Half (51%) would prefer not to talk about debt to their friends and family because they don’t want them to worry
  • The Money Advice Service is encouraging people to start opening up about their money worries this Talk Money Week

The taboo around debt means that many Britons are keeping it secret from their loved ones, according
to new research.

UK adults are hiding more than £96 billion2 of debt from their friends and family, with the average
amount of hidden debt in the UK standing at £4,1643 per person.

These findings come from new research by the Money Advice Service for Talk Money Week – a public
awareness campaign held this week (from 12th to 18th November), which is designed to improve
people’s money management skills and financial wellbeing.

Of those in a relationship, almost a third (29%) say their other half does not know about all the money
they owe. And five per cent admit that their partner is completely in the dark about their debts.

However, it’s not just our partners we are keeping this secret from. Almost half (47%) say their close
friends don’t know they have any debts at all. Men are less likely than women to open up about it. Half
(50%) of men admit that their close friends don’t have a clue about their debts, which is seven
percentage points higher than women (43%).

The research finds that credit cards account for the largest quantity of hidden debt (48%). Personal
loans from a bank or building society (17%), an overdraft (16%), money owed to friends and family
(12%) and store cards (11%) follow. Meanwhile, eight per cent of all those with debt hide payday loan

Many of those with debt say that they don’t want to burden others with their financial issues. For
example, 51 per cent say they would prefer not to talk to their friends and family about it because they
don’t want them to worry. Almost a quarter (23%) say they don’t have the confidence to speak to their
loved ones about their finances and this is particularly the case for young people (32%).

In fact, even in our turbulent times, Britons find it easier talking politics with their family than they do
dealing with money problems (63% vs 53%). The same can be said for religion, with 62 per cent of
Britons saying they find it easier talking about faith than money. Overall, one in five (19%) say they
find it difficult talking about money problems and debt with their family.

Furthermore, two-thirds (66%) find it easy talking about personal health with their family. Yet almost
half (46%) of younger adults, aged 18-34, have had trouble sleeping thinking about their hidden debt.

Caroline Siarkiewicz, Head of Debt Advice from the Money Advice Service commented:
“Sometimes it can be easier to pretend everything is alright and avoid opening up about our debt
problems to escape the tough conversations. Not because we want to cause harm, but because we
want to shelter those closest to us from our problems or are concerned about being judged. However,
this rarely solves the issue. In fact, it often makes things worse.

“Debt can be a particularly difficult topic to broach, especially if you’ve fallen into a spiral and don’t
know how to get out of it. But sharing a problem is the first step to solving it; it’s always better to be
open with your loved ones when it comes to money.

“As it’s Talk Money Week, there is no better time to start opening up about your finances. Whether
with friends and family or a partner, use this week to talk about your money worries. And remember
that free and impartial debt advice is available near you.”

- ENDS -
1 The phrase ‘hidden debt’ as used throughout this release refers to where people have not told their
family, friends or partner about all of the debt that they have

2 This was calculated using the following information: According to the ONS (2017), there are
52,079,000 adults in the UK. Our research found that 44.27% report hiding debt from their family,
partner and friends. In numbers of UK adults, this equates to 23,053,707 and the average debt in the
UK is £4,164.40. Therefore, the total amount of hidden debt in the UK is (23,053,707 * £4164.40)

3 The figure to two decimal places is £4,164.40

Opinium conducted online research on behalf of the Money Advice Service from 25th to 31st October.
The research was among a sample of 4,003 nationally representative UK adults (aged 18+).

For media enquiries contact:

About Talk Money Week
Talk Money Week is a new public awareness week from the Money Advice Service to help encourage
more open conversations about money. Held from 12-18 November, the week is designed to increase
financial wellbeing among Britons by encouraging them to discuss personal finance issues including
savings, debt, using credit, financial education and retirement. During Talk Money Week, the Money
Advice Service and its partners will be hosting events and activations across the UK designed to
encourage more money conversations, provide tips and ideas for saving, budgeting and increase
financial wellbeing. Talk Money Week is a key initiative of the Financial Capability Strategy for the UK.

About the Money Advice Service
The Money Advice Service is an independent organisation. It gives free, unbiased money guidance
online at or via free phone on 0800 138 7777. It also manages the delivery
of Debt advice across the UK, which is provided through a variety of partners. 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.