West Midlands families are sitting on a debt timebomb, according to a major new study.
Charity the Consumer Credit Counselling Service warned that households were struggling to meet mortgage payments, spending a high proportion of their incomes on debt repayments and increasingly seeking help as they struggled to make ends meet.
And the precarious state of their finances meant they were vulnerable to any change in their circumstances, such as wage freezes or cuts while the cost of living rises.
Since the banking crisis, attention has focused on levels of government debt in the UK and across Europe.
But less attention has been paid to the levels of household debt built up by ordinary families. David Cameron came under fire when he raised this issue during last year’s Conservative conference and an early draft of his speech, published in newspapers, was hastily changed following a wave of criticism aimed at the Prime Minister for apparently lecturing hard-pressed households.
However, thousands of families across the West Midlands are facing serious difficulties with debt, according to a study by think tank the Financial Inclusion Centre, commissioned by the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS).
It highlighted figures published by the Financial Services Authority which show that more than one in five of West Midland homeowners who took out a mortgage since 2005 have had problems making repayments.
At least two monthly payments had been missed or not paid in full for 21 per cent of properties.
The figures also show that more than 1.5 per cent of mortgages sold since 2005 are for homes which have since been repossessed, or are currently the subject of a repossession order.
And between 41 and 45 per cent of West Midlands homeowners are “mortgage prisoners” – defined by the Financial Services Authority as people who would find it hard to move house because the debt on their current property is at least 85 per cent of its value.
The number of people receiving counselling from the CCCS because they have difficulty meeting payments rose in the West Midlands from 4,899 in 2005 to 11,499 in 2010, an increase of 135 per cent.
Of those contacting the charity for help in the region, the average homeowner had a mortgage of £111,847. The average unsecured debt was £14,413.
And the charity estimates that 151,000 households in the West Midlands, 8.6 per cent, spend at least a quarter of their total income repaying credit cards, personal loans and other unsecured debts.
Mortgages and secured debts also weigh heavily on the finances of West Midlands residents, with an estimated 123,000 households in the region, seven per cent, needing to spend more than half of their income on total debt repayments, including mortgages.
Commenting on the report, CCCS director of external affairs Delroy Corinaldi said: “There are a very large number of financially vulnerable households in the West Midlands – and it is vital that they know where to turn if they fall into difficulty.”
A separate study from R3, the trade body for lawyers and accountants specialising in insolvency issues, found that 63 per cent of West Midlands residents said they were concerned about their current level of debt, while 48 per cent said they struggled to make it to payday.
Meanwhile, new polling commissioned from YouGov by the think tank IPPR revealed that young people across the country are struggling to balance their finances.
More than two-thirds of young people in the UK living on median incomes or below believe they will “own their own home” one day, but few are saving enough to achieve homeowner status.
Around 40 per cent of these young people said they were “often worrying” about their ability to meet their monthly costs.
IPPR chief economist Tony Dolphin said: “This polling shows a huge gap between the extent to which young people on low incomes think they have enough saved for a rainy day and the reality of what they really have in their bank accounts.
“Most financial advisers would recommend that people put aside the equivalent of three months take-home pay for an emergency.
"But our poll suggests that very few young people have the reserves they would need if they were made redundant.”