Why problem debt is not just a banking concern

As the new personal insolvency regime gets ready to open its doors for the first time here in Ireland, the topic of problem debt and indebtedness is rarely out of the national headlines. Banks are the primary focus. However, what is sometimes missed in the discussion is the role of utility providers, where some have taken a more aggressive approach to getting paid.

In the UK, research by comparison site uSwitch has found that the number of people who owe money to their energy supplier has risen by over one million in a year. Those in arrears now owe an estimated £637m to energy firms, a 6pc increase on last year.

The study also warned that average energy debt could increase following price rises over the winter combined with an extended period of unusually cold temperatures.

Just over one fifth of those in debt said they were “turning a blind eye” to the debt in the hope it would decrease over time.

Here in Ireland, Electric Ireland has admitted that it has been forced to put client management services in place for those with debt arrears with the company. In 2012, about 7,000 Electric Ireland customers had their accounts disconnected.

“Many of our customers are experiencing considerable hardship and we continue to work sensitively with them to help them manage their bills,” said Mr. Pat O’Doherty, chief executive of Electric Ireland.

Debt it seems has more places to take hold than the loan repayment schedules we sign up to when we take out loans and credit.

For consumers, it is important that they seek early assistance if they are at risk of falling into arrears. Shopping around for the best value does continue to make sense, but usage of gas and electricity is equally important as a means of reducing costs. This is why checking a home for energy efficiency is more important than ever and insulating accordingly to help reduce total energy use.

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