THE last week of January is the busiest time for debt advice at Citizens Advice. Analysis of last year’s data revealed that on a single day, January 29, 2019, the charity’s offices helped 2,776 people with a debt problem - 24% above the daily average.

In 2017 and 2018, the busiest day for debt advice fell on January 31, with 2,762 and 2,775 clients seeking help on this issue respectively. This means over the past three years someone sought help from Citizens Advice every 10 seconds on their busiest days for debt advice.

Household debts remain the most common issue for people coming to Citizens Advice for debt advice. In 2019, 88,405 people sought help with council tax arrears; 86,210 people went for advice on debts related to utilities including fuel, water, phone and broadband costs; and 72,358 had problems with rent arrears.

In Salford, issues with debt mirror those nationally with the organisation’s recent quarterly results showing debt issues have risen by 24%, but for someone working ‘on the ground’ the trends are particularly worrying.

“It is noticeable that debt enquiries did not drop more in quarter three as is usually the case,” said Tom Togher, chief officer at Salford Citizens Advice, which is celebrating 80 years of helping people in Salford.

“Creditors tend towards greater debt forbearance as we approach Christmas so these results suggest a very significant upwards trend.

“It is one of the things that is making me most alarmed. There are a number of factors that give me an indication that the economic situation in the city is a little bit worse than we would expect it to be.

“Overall our client numbers are rising and we’re looking at debt issues rising in a period when they would usually be a bit quieter. We’re also looking at employment enquiries and housing enquiries rising and these are all signs of the city being in a bad place. I am worried.”

In Salford, employment enquiries are showing a 12% increase on this this time last year which Mr Togher says is probably connected to a worsening employment market.

Housing enquiries are 43% higher (at 1,282 in this quarter) compared to this time last year, driven by increases in private rented tenancy problems and suggesting an increased pressure on homelessness services.

“There has been a rise in housing enquiries for some years now and it is indicative of a tight housing market,” said Mr Togher. “It’s connected to eviction issues in the private sector and drives a lot of our enquiries.

“The right to stay in your property is a national issue and it is no worse in Salford than anywhere else but it is a significant issue for everybody.

“Just before the General Election last year, the Government consulted about proposals to strengthen the rights of tenants and that was something we responded to. We’re very clear that Section 21 - the law that is used to evict people in private tenancies - needs reform.

“The proposals were interrupted by the General Election and it will take some time to get back into the system but I imagine it will still be a proposal that we would welcome. It is the single biggest driver of our housing work and probably the biggest driver for the local authority in terms of homelessness.”

In better news, compared to this time last year, benefit issues (using the combined figure for Universal Credit and other benefits) show a drop of 7%, at some 7,312 enquiries in the last quarter.

“We think this is because of the success of the help-to-claim service ensuring that early advice is preventing greater problems further in people’s claims,” added Mr Togher.

“The National Citizens Advice service is currently in active discussions with the government about refunding a second year of the project so we hope that this will mean no, or little interruption of the local service’s arrangements.”

Citizens Advice Salford provide advice and information by email, by phone and face to face at their local centres. You can also find them in doctor’s surgeries, community centres and food banks across Salford.

Go to salfordcab.org.uk for more information or call 0300 3309 074 between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday. Email advice is also available by contacting salfordcab.org.uk