By Ben Borland
A record number of desperate Scots needed help last year for problems with household bills, mounting debts and even putting food on the table.
One person every minute went to their local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice on how to cope with the damage caused to families by the financial crisis.
Umbrella body Citizens Advice Scotland warned that its annual report painted a “very worrying” picture of a country beset by “economic turmoil and public spending cuts”.
It also warned of “disastrous” consequences such as homelessness, poor mental health and bankruptcy.
The most common problems were credit, store and charge card debts and personal loan debts, with almost 50,000 people seeking help on how to get out from under a mountain of bills.
The number of people needing chadrity support such as food parcels, clothing and furniture almost double.
Umbrella body Citizens Advice Scotland warned that its annual report painted a “very worrying” picture
Susan McPhee, head of policy at Citizens Advice Scotland, told the Sunday Express: “There has been a huge growth in the numbers of people struggling with debt and low income.
“Prices are rising all the time – for example fuel bills – and peoples’ incomes are just not keeping up with that, so many of them are turning to loan sharks and payday loans, which of course make their situation even worse.
“Citizens Advice Bureau waiting rooms are seeing more people than ever, and we’ve had to increase our numbers of money advisers all round the country. People are often in tears when they come into us, because they’re at the end of their tether, maybe worried about losing their home for example – and they don’t know where to turn.
“Many of them are people who are already vulnerable, such as pensioners, families on low incomes, or sick and disabled people who are having their benefits cut even further because of the welfare reforms.”
Ms McPhee has now written to MPs and MSPs warning that cuts to Citizens Advice Bureau budgets were now putting these vital services at risk. The network of more than 200 offices and “advice points”, as well as a national helpline, is facing a nine per cent funding cut this year.
She added: “We are further concerned that the outlook for 2012/13 could reduce resources further and cause services to be cut or squeezed even further.” In total, Scotland’s Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with 560,303 issues in 2010/11, the highest ever total and up by three per cent on the previous year.
Problems with income tax rose by 39 per cent, Employment and Support Allowance by 33 per cent and telephone debts rose by 14 per cent. More than 203,000 people sought help with their benefits, with Disability Living Allowance, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit generating the most enquiries.
Almost 144,000 people needed debt advice, or almost 400 every day, up six per cent on 2009/10.
Citizens Advice Scotland said people with debt problems were more likely to be middle aged, single, divorced or widowed, as well as people who are jobless and living in rented housing.
There was an increase in the number of court action and enforcement issues dealt with, suggesting that creditors are getting increasingly tough.
The only bright spot in the report was a fall in the number of people seeking help after being made redundant, down by 26 per cent.
The Citizens Advice Bureau network also won back £126million for its clients in the form of lost or unpaid wages, unclaimed benefits and compensation.
Courtesy of the Scottish Sunday Express