A DEBT charity has called for urgent action as new figures showed that the number of Scots seeking help from them rose by 20 per cent last year.

Almost 17,000 Scots sought advice from ths StepChange Debt Charity last year - up from 14,182 in 2015 equating to 324 people per week.

The charity said the average unsecured debt of their clients has also risen £12,256 to £12,677, reversing recent trends.

The figures taken from the charity’s annual Scotland in the Red publication highlights how an increasing proportion of clients seeking the charity’s help were in arrears with key household bills, such as rent, mortgage and utilities.

In particular, four in 10 clients with council tax payments were in arrears. The amount owed in arrears on key household bills has also increased across the board, the charity said.

The Herald:

The charity is calling on the Scottish Government to commit to expanding the Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS) to better support hard-pressed households who have fallen into financial difficulty.

The DAS already helps thousands of Scots every year by freezing their interest and charges, and stopping enforcement action by creditors, but some people in temporary financial difficulty are not able to get guaranteed protections, the charity says.

“Expanding the DAS would give people time to get back on their feet without the worry of their debts spiralling out of control,” said a StepChange spokesman “By extending DAS, the Scottish Government would give people the best chance of getting themselves back into a position where they can start making payments on their debts.”

The charity's concerns come as official figures show that personal insolvencies in Scotland rose by almost a fifth last year.

Provisional figures from the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) show an increase of 18% on 2015/16, rising by 1,484 to 9,958 in 2016/17.

Sharon Bell, head of StepChange Debt Charity Scotland said: “Too many people are borrowing just to get by, struggling to save, working hard and finding it difficult to make ends meet. The record number of people coming to us for help shows how dealing with debt is a daily challenge for many ordinary working households.

“Borrowing is growing rapidly and for the first time since the economic crisis of 2008, the average amount of debt owed per StepChange client is also rising. If this continues, the social economic cost of personal debt will increase even further.

“This makes it all the more important that the Scottish Government now commits to extending the Debt Arrangement Scheme to ensure that people with debts can have a fair chance of getting back on their feet.

“Scotland can pride itself on leading the way in the United Kingdom for helping people with debts – but we can and should do more to adapt to the changing nature of debt.”