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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Scotland in the red: families use credit to pay for essentials


One in five have borrowed money to keep up with credit agreements

One in four adults in Scotland have used credit to pay for essentials in the past three months.

New research for debt charity StepChange shows that the coast of living crisis has not abated, and people are having to resort to cards and other means to pay for things like groceries, utilities and housing.

Meanwhile, while one in five (19%) adults in Scotland have borrowed money to keep up with credit agreements.

The data comes as StepChange Scotland releases its Scotland in the Red report, exploring the debt and demographics of its clients in 2023.

Both the report and the new stats reveal a difficult picture for Scots’ finances, with certain groups, particularly those who are more vulnerable, facing acute pressures brought on by the cost of living crisis.

The charity says that increasing household financial resilience must be a priority for any incoming UK Government, as it continues to support thousands of people who are falling into debt due to the high cost of essential expenditure, despite a majority being in employment.

The report shows that among StepChange Scotland clients in 2023:

  • Almost one in three (31%) are in a negative budget, up from 27% in 2022,
  • over half (55%) of clients are in full or part time work, despite this they still face difficulty with problem debt,
  • almost half (47%) of clients under 25 are in Council Tax arrears, compared to 30% of all clients
  • and average household arrears among all clients rose from £2,920 in 2022 to £3,147 in 2023 - the highest they have been in five years.

Council Tax remains a challenging bill for StepChange Scotland clients, with the charity concerned over how much more prevalent council tax debt is among younger people, single parents and vulnerable clients.

StepChange Scotland has emphasised the need for reform of Council Tax collection practices, as local authorities’ often quick and sometimes inappropriate use of sheriff officers can exacerbate hardship for struggling households.

Sharon Bell, head of StepChange Scotland, said: “With only a week to go until the general election, a new government in Westminster must prioritise financial security, ensuring that the cost of living crisis does not create long-lasting difficulty for households. This should involve giving people a fair chance to re-build financial resilience through adequate social safety nets and fairly remunerated employment.

“With our data showing that council tax is still pushing low-income households into hardship, we need to see a continued focus from the Scottish Government on creating fairer council tax collection practices. This can be achieved through collaborative working with local authorities, sheriff officers and advice agencies.” 



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