Press release: Call for family and friends to spot the signs of problem debts

Wednesday 21 June 2017

  • One in six adults at risk of crisis debt
  • Yet less than one in five people access help for their debts
  • New study identifies the early warning signs that friends and family might be experiencing problem debt

The Money Advice Service is today calling on friends and family to spot the signs that people close to them might be experiencing problem debts. Debt and money worries are often seen as a taboo subject in the UK so it is time to get people talking about their money worries and get them to advice earlier to prevent their debts becoming unmanageable.

Around 8 million people in the UK regularly miss bill re-payments or feel overwhelmed by their debts. Of those, fewer than one in five seek advice to help their situation. This means a worrying 10% of the population could be suffering in silence with serious money problems, with young adults, people who rent their homes, large families and single parents noticeably at higher risk. Friends and family could make all the difference to break the silence and encourage them to get help.

New findings about the symptoms of problem debt ** by the Money Advice Service, found that debt problems often build up over time so people may not be fully aware of the full extent of their financial difficulties until they become a crisis. Identifying the signs and getting help early will prevent these issues becoming critical.

The signs someone is experiencing problem debt are often difficult to spot. They may be hidden due to embarrassment, to protect friends and family from the situation or because they ether don’t realise or want to confront the full extent of the problem. Signs will vary for each person. However, there are a range of physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms which can give friends and family subtle clues about behaviour which seems out of character.

These signs could include:

  • They have been in debt in the past
  • They have had a recent life event – an event that has resulted in a loss of income or higher spending for example having a baby, being made redundant, illness, divorce or a death in the family.
  • They are living beyond their means or over spending – they always seem to have the latest ‘must have’ items although they don’t have the income to cover this.
  • They seem anxious, withdrawn or depressed – they have reduced time socialising, they are avoiding friends.
  • They may seem more secretive – starting to hideissues and avoiding talking about finances
  • They have changed their spending habits – either reducing spending (e.g going on fewer holidays or eating out less) or overspending (spending without a plan for repayment for example putting luxury items on credit)
  • They seem tired or are having trouble sleeping
  • Their weight has changed suddenly – either increasing or decreasing

There are three simple steps that friends and family can take to help someone who might be experiencing financial difficulties:

1) Start a conversation – Use your own personal experiences to help get to the bottom of their financial worries, make sure you keep the conversation neutral and non-judgmental.

2) Talk to them about free debt advice – Help your friend or family member to understand that free debt advice will help them get their finances back on track. Ask them to make a commitment to seek free debt advice. You could also offer to help them by going along with them

3) Use the Money Advice Service – Encourage them to use the Debt test to work out the best option to help them resolve their money worries and find free debt advice in their area.

Debt advice can have a massive impact on people’s lives. Within three months of receiving advice, 65% are either repaying their debts or have repaid them in full. 73% feel less stressed about dealing with their finances, two thirds (62%) are sleeping better, over half (55%), reported better physical health and 69% said their relationships improved_*_.

Sheila Wheeler, Director of Debt Advice at the Money Advice Service said:

“With one in six people in the UK at risk of a debt crisis, there is a high chance that someone close to us may be struggling with money troubles. We are calling on friends and family to watch out for the signs someone might need help and to support them to access free debt advice as soon as possible.=

“For people who are experiencing financial difficulties, we want you to know that help is available and you do not need to suffer alone. Friends and family will want to help and support you. Free debt advice is available now and will help support you in getting your finances back on track before your money worries become a bigger issue. Use the Debt testopens in new window to find out how you can resolve your debts and find free, impartial help in your area.”

For more information visit

- ENDS –

For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson please contact the press office on 0207 943 0593 or email


The debt test tool can be found at

*****Money Advice Service: Over-Indebtedness data

Areas with the most problem debt

1) Newham - 23.10%

2) Kingston upon Hull, City of - 22.20%

3) Tower Hamlets - 22.20%

4) Barking and Dagenham - 22.10%

5 Manchester - 22.00%

6) Blaenau Gwent - 21.90%

7) Nottingham - 21.70%

8) Sandwell - 21.50%

9) Leicester - 21.10%

10) Stoke-on-Trent - 20.80%

Areas with the least problem debt

1) East Dunbartonshire - 9.90%

2) Wealden - 9.90%

3) East Renfrewshire - 9.80%

4) Hart - 9.80%

5) Wokingham - 9.80%

6) Chiltern - 9.60%

7) South Bucks - 9.60%

8) Mole Valley - 9.50%

9) East Dorset - 9.40%

10) Elmbridge - 9.40%

**Symptoms of debt journeys - June 2017

_*_Findings from Understanding the Impact of Debt Advice: Initial research findings. This can be viewed here

About the symptoms of debt research

The research was conducted in early 2016 by an agency called 2CV to help identify the symptoms of problem debt and explore the journeys people take into problem debt. Over 90 people across England and Scotland were interviewed as part of the research, including people currently or previously in problem debt and their friends/family. The research was used to gain a better understanding of the journeys that people take into debt and to define a set of characteristics which could be used as ‘symptoms’ which are recognisable either by those in debt or those who care for them. The debt journeys can be found here.


Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said:

“Friends and family members are key players in the fight against problem debt – and we need to raise awareness of how to spot the warning signs that something is wrong.

“Struggling to cope with your finances can be a lonely experience, and support from friends and family members can be invaluable. The best thing you can do for a friend or loved one in this situation is to make sure they access the free debt advice they need – and at National Debtline we know from experience that the earlier this happens, the better.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said:

“Unpaid bills and ongoing debts can create huge anxiety in people’s lives.

“Debt problems can quickly escalate and become increasingly difficult to manage, so it’s crucial people seek help early on rather than waiting until they reach crisis point.

“Whether you’ve just started to miss payments or are struggling with multiple debts, Citizens Advice can help you make sense of your finances, understand your options and make choices about how to move forward.”

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


  • Administered by Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB)

Northern Ireland

  • Citizens Advice Northern Ireland

Additional partners

  • StepChange Debt Charity
  • Money Advice Trust

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. 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.