Debt experts issue help warning

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Media captionDarren Speed got a DRO after building up £13,000 of debt last Christmas

Debt experts are warning people not to delay seeking help if Christmas has tipped them into unmanageable debt.

The Insolvency Service of England and Wales is highlighting the difficult financial situation facing some young people.

It says more are turning to a new form of bankruptcy called a Debt Relief Order (DRO) to protect themselves from their creditors.

A quarter of the 44,000 who have taken them out since 2009 are aged 25-34.

The figures demonstrate the growing burden of debt among young families, money advice organisations say.

"[The young generation] faces a future of higher debts and fewer assets than older generations," said Una Farrell from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.

Growing numbers are seeking protection with DROs, designed for those who have debts of less than £15,000, who don't own their own home and have less than £300 in savings or other assets.

The DRO is a cheaper process than bankruptcy for those in England and Wales and doesn't involve going to court.

DROs are also available in Northern Ireland, with the same conditions for qualifying, although you are also allowed to own a car up to the value of £1,000 in addition to having less than £300 in assets.

They are not available in Scotland, where bankruptcy and insolvencies are handled by the Accountant in Bankruptcy.

'Fresh start'

Charities say that, on the positive side, the DRO figures show that people are doing something about their financial problems.

"By the time people come to us for help with getting out of their debt problems, they have often been through a year of stress, worry and struggling to repay," Teresa Perchard from Citizens Advice told BBC News.

"These are only provided for people who have no way of being able to afford to repay their debts and it is helping them to make a fresh start," she added.

People with DROs have to declare them when applying for loans for the next six years. That will affect their credit rating and, therefore, their ability to borrow. Experts warn not to consider them an easy way out.

"A DRO can help people to address their debt problems and start again with a different attitude to credit and debt," said Stephen Speed, chief executive of the Insolvency Service.

The Christmas holiday is one of the times in which people are most likely to get into financial trouble as spending rockets and some families turn to high cost payday lenders, who offer short-term loans at very high interest rates.

Debt management companies are expecting a surge of calls for assistance once the New Year celebrations are over.

The main advice services are urging people to seek help sooner rather than later and avoid taking out high-interest loans, which will only make their situation worse.

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