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People in UK have £19 billion hidden debt

Citizens Advice Bureau estimates that half of the £19 billion of hidden debt held by people in the UK is made up of debts to central government — including tax credit and benefit overpayments.

HMRC and the DWP both publish the amount of overpayment debt in their annual reports. In 2017, their respective annual reports showed people owed £7.4 billion in tax credit overpayment debt and £2.6 billion in benefit overpayments. Added to this, the other big debt to government  is in the form of council tax arrears. CAB found that In 2017, the total level of council tax arrears was £2.8 billion.

CAB studied the following areas:

  • Utility bill arrears. Using figures from Ofgem’s social obligations report and figures around water bill arrears, published by Ofwat.
  • Telecoms. The level of arrears isn’t published at all, so CAB used the best available source – Ofcom’s affordability survey, which estimates the percentage of people who are in debt to their telecoms company across a range of products. This was combined with ONS data on the number of people who pay telecoms bills and Ofcom data on the average amount people pay each month. Assuming each person behind on their bills is 1 month in arrears would mean a total of £27 million of telecoms debt.
  • Rent arrears. CAB used data reported by MHCLG in their Local Authority Housing Statistics. In 2017, people were £336 million in debt on their rent to local authorities. To calculate housing association and private rent arrears they used the English Housing Survey, which reports the proportion of people in arrears for each type of housing. They then worked out the figures on the basis that everyone in arrears had the same average level of arrears as people seen by Citizens Advice. For housing association tenants the average arrears was £1,117 in 2017 – meaning there would have been £427 million of debt in the sector. For private renters the average arrears was £1,553 – meaning here would have been arrears of £609 million.
  • Fines, penalty notices, and compensation orders. On top of those debts, there are a range of smaller debts owed to government. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service provide data on the level of fines, fixed penalty notices, and compensation orders owed. In 2017, they estimated the total level of debt at £610 million.

Read Citizens Advice Bureau - Hidden Debts The growing problem of being behind on bills and in debt to the government