The Sunday Times has reported an interesting piece of research that is noteworthy not just because of the picture it paints of unseen personal over-indebtedness in the UK; but also because it highlights some interesting data collection methods by Mr Peter Sargant, the president of R3, the Association of Business Recovery Professionals. The story is entitled, "Bankrupt Britain figures rise to 1m." It notes:
"Almost a million Britons will be technically insolvent by the end of the year, according to a study that threatens to reveal the true state of the nation’s household finances. More than 700,000 cash-strapped customers have been declared technically insolvent by their banks without showing up on any government statistics, the figures reveal.
The thousands of “hidden debtors” have been signed up to a debt management plan with their lenders, rather than forced into formal insolvency proceedings. The study, conducted by R3, the trade body for insolvency practitioners, suggests that the true number of people in severe financial difficulty is about 450% higher than government statistics indicate.
Peter Sergeant, president of R3, said: “By the end of this year almost 1m people will be technically insolvent. The official insolvency statistics are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg is made up by these 700,000 hidden debtors that have been signed up to debt-management plans. “If the government wants to record the true state of the nation’s finances, these plans should be officially recorded.” A debt-management plan is an official agreement between an individual in financial difficulty and creditors. Anyone signed up for such a plan is technically insolvent, according to the R3 report. It is seen as an alternative to bankruptcy or an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA) – a softer form of bankruptcy linked to a repayment plan.
Although the terms of an IVA are set at the start of the agreement, the interest rates and repayments on a debt-man-agement plan can be adjusted over time. The study claims that 64% of individuals who have signed up to these schemes have been asked to increase their monthly repayments since agreeing to the original deal. The figures also show that the number of “hidden debtors” soared 17% in only seven months. Sergeant added: “Every day I come across young people in their early twenties who are earning maybe £15,000 in an office job but have racked up debts of £25,000 on credit cards. "At the other end of the spectrum, I recently met a couple in their seventies who had borrowed more money on their home and the man of the house had spent his share of the cash buying cars and living the high life. We have a huge debt problem in this country.”
Sargent's comments are interesting, but for some reason he fails to mention the new DRO procedure, which will almost certainly cater for a large number of the 700,000 or so debtors that might need to resort to a formal insolvency procedure. His data collection methods with both young and old debtors are also noteworthy - he is out on the ground experiencing debt at the coal face. Why though has the DRO, a major new Government initiative, been missed out from his analysis? The Approved Intermediaries (AI) will certainly see themselves as offering alternatives to bankruptcy, IVAs, and debt management plans. Why does the president of r3 not think likewise?