Personal debt goes up by 23% in a year in Wales

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Media captionMichelle built up £12,000 of debt

There has been a rise of 23% in personal debt in the last year across Wales, according to a charity.

The figures from StepChange show how many people are struggling to meet bills after the economic downturn.

It comes alongside fears new regulations may force some borrowers into the hands of loan sharks.

The Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit is currently investigating one suspected loan shark for loaning money at six million per cent interest.

Peter Tutton, head of policy at debt charity StepChange, told BBC Wales Week In Week Out: "Households (are) struggling with stagnant incomes and rising costs.

"Even though the economy is starting to pick up a bit we're still seeing more and more people coming for debt advice. The number of people we're seeing in Wales has gone up more than 20% over the last year."

Image caption The top five places in Wales where people are asking Citizen's Advice for help

Last month a new cap on credit was introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to limit the amount of interest the payday loan companies could charge borrowers.

This has led to fears people will increasingly turn to loan sharks to make ends meet.

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Media captionChris Pond says loan sharks are getting "into a feeding frenzy"

Chris Pond, who is vice-chairman of the newly-established Financial Inclusion Commission, said the cap had led to a reduction in affordable credit across the UK.

He said: "While the supply of that lending has disappeared the demand doesn't. The demand keeps on growing. And it's in that respect that the illegal loan sharks are getting into a feeding frenzy."

Loan sharks are hard to catch and even harder to prosecute, with less than 10% of those reported ending up in court.

Lessons on loan sharks

Lessons warning against loan sharks for children in Wales are to be piloted from March.

The Illegal Money Lending Team (ILMT) in Wales is offering schools ready-made lessons designed to warn pupils about the dangers, with the hope they will take what they have learnt home with them and feed it back to their parents.

The educational packs, including videos and activities, have been funded by confiscated money from convicted loan sharks.

Similar lessons started being offered to schools in England last year.

Image caption Stephen Grey investigates loan sharks

Wales Illegal Money Lending Unit (WIMLU) investigations manager Stephen Grey estimates many thousands of people across the country are victims of illegal money lending.

"These people have essentially been groomed," said Mr Grey. "They are encouraged to borrow a bit of money for a pair of trainers for the kids, or a new washing machine, and once they are in the screw is turned.

"There is a degree of trust there to start with, but once they get their hooks into you they are looking for a cash cow."

Week In Week Out, Wales in the Red: February 10, BBC One Wales 22:35 GMT

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