THERE has been a dramatic increase in the number of people in the Swindon area seeking help for debt problems, according to new figures from the StepChange debt charity. Last year, 1,005 Swindon residents contacted the charity’s helpline, up from 718 in 2012 or an increase of 40 per cent.

The figures show people contacting the charity from the Swindon area are struggling to make ends meet, and are, on average, £3 short of covering their essential household bills each month. Last year, people from the Swindon area who contacted the charity’s helpline owed an average of £13,818 in unsecured debt.

The findings are released to coincide with the charity’s Debt Awareness Week this week, which aims to raise awareness of the potential signs of debt problem and encourage people to seek advice earlier.

StepChange Debt Charity is urging to people to recognise that they may have a debt problem and call their helpline if they are juggling or falling behind on essential household bills, borrowing to make it through to pay day, borrowing more to pay off existing debts or getting hit by late payments or overdraft charges.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange, said: “Debt can have a devastating effect on people’s lives in the form of mental health issues and family breakdown. “We need people to take early action to prevent some of the worst effects and get back on their financial feet much sooner.”