City thinking, local knowledge

The UK’s Debt Crisis: How bad is it?

By Questa Chartered

With inflation approaching 10% and energy bills set for another hike in the autumn, it was no surprise to see City AM’s recent headline saying that ‘hordes of Brits are slipping into debt’.

Every time you open the financial pages online, there seems to be another picture of someone with their head in their hands – alongside another worrying headline.

The City AM article quoted the new boss of Lloyds Bank, saying that the number of people with persistent debt problems had jumped by almost a third as the cost of living crisis bites, with three-quarters of the bank’s customers ‘worried’ and 80% having less than £500 in their current and savings accounts.

A similar story on the BBC reported that credit card borrowing in June grew at its fastest rate in nearly 17 years, increasing by an annual rate of 12.5%, the fastest pace since November 2005.

Clearly a lot of people are very worried – and the debt crisis and pressure on costs has thrown up another worry, for both businesses and individuals.

The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors has warned that the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and inflation have created the ‘perfect conditions’ for fraud, with the cost of living crisis giving more criminals both the motivation and the opportunity to strike.

It says the ‘temptation and motivation’ for fraud have never been greater, warning that criminals will use “ever more sophisticated tools to commit their crimes”. The warning comes after a spate of corporate frauds, one of which saw German payment processing firm Wirecard go into insolvency after being forced to admit that €1.9bn (£1.6bn) and half its stated revenues simply did not exist.

But what is true for business is also true for individuals – especially anyone feeling under pressure from rising prices. While businesses undoubtedly have more cash, there are a lot more householders – and fraudsters will not be slow to target them. One thing you cannot do as the cost of living crisis bites is lose money to fraud: now, more than ever, the simple adage that ‘if it seems too good to be true…’ should be at the front of all our minds.

Two final words on debt and the current situation. First of all, if you are having money problems – be they personal or in your business – then don’t ignore them. It’s human nature not to want to deal with difficult subjects – but that is the worst thing you can do. Secondly, it is not all doom and gloom: there are plenty of well-run businesses continuing to prosper – and as we always say to our clients, saving and investing is a long-term commitment.

Baron Rothschild, who made a fortune buying in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo, put it rather more bluntly, saying ‘the time to buy is when there is blood in the streets’. That may sound harsh, but it is true. The time to buy is very often when everyone wants to sell.

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