The amount of people struggling with debt in Derry and Strabane is at an all time high, according to local debt advisors.
Debt Action NI, which operates out of Dove House, Crescent Community and Cultural Centre and Hillcrest House in Derry as well as Bridge Street in Strabane, described their most recent set of figures pertaining to the amount of debt in Derry as “extremely worrying”.
The Journal can exclusively reveal that from September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014 Debt Action NI dealt with 298 clients in Derry with their debt amounting to £4,996,985.85 covering 833 debts.
For the same period of time, Debt Action NI in Strabane worked with 152 clients with their debt amounting to £2.1m covering 382 debts.
“These figures are extremely worrying from our point of view,” said Debt Action NI Money and Debt Advice Worker, Michael Lyttle.
“This isn’t just a problem that affects people on low incomes. We’ve dealt with professionals and business people with property portfolios. I’ve been doing this kind of work for 10 years and this is as bad as I have seen it.
“I’ve worked with clients who were suicidal and were very close to taking their own lives because of the amount of debt they were in. Debt is leaving Derry people suicidal.”
Derry priest, Fr. Michael Canny, described the figures revealed by the Derry Journal as a “horrible sign of the times”.
The Debt Action NI figure shows that from September 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014, 298 local people amassed just under £5m of debt.
The figure does not include other people who have gone to other organisations and it does not include those who have yet to seek help with their debt.
“This is a horrible sign of the times,” said Diocesan spokesperson Fr. Michael Canny.
“There are too many people living on the edge as it is and all it takes is something like a death or a sickness in the family to tip them over the edge and into debt.
“I can really empathise with these people. There are people in Derry who are just about surviving at the moment.”
SDLP MLA for Foyle, Mark H. Durkan said: “I am deeply concerned with the increasingly numbers of people in the North West facing ongoing struggles with debt. Our local advice offices, including my own constituency office are increasingly inundated with desperate individuals seeking a way out of debt and danger.
“While local families battle to find a way out of the red, the greedy and unscrupulous loan companies prey on those who are most vulnerable and are tipping many who are trying to find their way into the black further into inescapable cycles of debt.
“Whilst, I am alarmed to learn that our community services are dealing with debt amounting to a shocking £5m in Derry alone, I cannot say I am surprised as you only need to turn on the TV to see the variety of money lenders offering ‘easy’ escapes.
“While, it is tempting for many to turn to a quick cash fix, I urge anyone facing money struggles to seek immediate advice before turning to further lending,” he said.
Derry Sinn Fein councillor Sandra Duffy said: “These figures are shocking but none the less the reality for countless homes across our city. Many people are dreading the winter months with the onset of heavy fuel bills, the whole expense of Christmas and many are struggling to pay rates, rent, mortgages and that’s not even taking into consideration all levels of personal debts.
“On top of all that there is the major fear of the impact of any proposed Tory cuts in Derry and why Sinn Féin has been so opposed to them.
“It is important that people who are overwhelmed by debt are given an opportunity to find a way out of their misery and get their lives back on track.I am calling on those who are burdened by debt to get advice immediately so that help can be applied on getting them into a situation where they are able to manage the problem without causing themselves severe economic hardship.”