Adrian Crymble, operations director at Debt Help & Advice, looks at the impact Christmas credit will have on the debt management sector in 2014
The third Monday of January has come to be known as ‘Blue Monday’: the date that in everyone’s calendar marks the official expiration of Christmas cheer.
The diagnosis is made using factors such as cold weather and the crumbling of barely-begun new years resolutions, but the primary cause of the January blues is the arrival of Christmas credit card bills on the doormats of consumers across the UK.
The responsibility is now with debt advisors to heighten awareness of the persistent struggle many consumers still have to deal with, and offer support accordingly.
‘Blue Monday’ might sound like a light-hearted handle for the post-holiday blues experienced by everyone, but it also provides an indicator of how many will cope for the rest of the year.
For approximately a third of UK consumers, who paid for Christmas using credit, last week signalled the return to an especially cold reality.
Despite reports of the economic recovery delivering a much-needed boost to the nation’s mood, it is possible that this takes attention away from the fact that a high proportion of British borrowers are still struggling to repay credit cards and loans. It is therefore crucial that the debt management sector remains alerted to the continuing problem of accumulated festive debt.
Since the start of the year, there has been a reported rise in loan enquiries from the same point in 2013. This shows that personal debts are not left over from the recession, but are actually increasing as the economy improves.
A surge in consumer confidence is likely to have stimulated this spike in lending. With cheaper credit rates than those offered during the recession, and less perceived risk in taking out loans to fund aspirational items such as cars, homes and luxury goods, many see borrowing money as a low-risk action.
Another contributor to increased spending and borrowing might be the success of the pre-Christmas ‘Black Friday’ discounts and Boxing Day sales, which actually encourage more spending by creating the impression of great value.
These are contributors to mounting debt even for those that paid for Christmas with their own cash, as by the beginning of January available funds have dwindled.
It is important for debt management sector businesses to ensure the ever-present financial problems for people across the UK remain in the public eye. It is also important for the industry to recognise that whether credit has stacked up or savings are diminishing, the recession has impacted all tiers of society.
Many were shocked by the figures last year that showed more than five million people in the UK are being paid less than the living wage. For debt professionals this is a familiar tale, and reinforces the knowledge that our audience is wider than ever before.
It is necessary to take steps to engage with those that might not approach us otherwise, participating with local charitable initiatives and providing contact details to food banks in the area. Working with no-fee firms helps reach a wider audience, while going directly to local charities to offer personal, friendly guidance to those that need it.
For most of us January is spent waiting for February, as Christmas shopping leaves everyone feeling the pinch. For a large number of consumers this year, that pinch could last for months, or even years to come. It is for this reason that we need to be attentive to potential clients and provide sensible, sustainable guidance for the months ahead.