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Insolvencies at new record high

BBC | November 3, 2006

A record number of people in England and Wales went insolvent between July and September, official figures show.

The government's Insolvency Service said 27,644 people went bankrupt or entered into Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) to manage debts.

Overall, insolvencies are 55% higher than during the same three-month period in 2005 and are widely expected to top 100,000 for the entire year.

Experts have blamed greater personal debt for the rise in insolvencies.

Controversial

Significantly, the insolvency figures show that the proportion of people taking out IVAs has risen relative to those going bankrupt.

In total, 15,416 people went bankrupt between July and September. At the same time, 12,228 people entered into IVAs.

A year ago, just over 12,000 went bankrupt and fewer than 6,000 entered into an IVA.

The sharp rise in IVAs has been controversial.

IVAs are heavily marketed by providers, who make money from acting as go-betweens for lenders and borrowers.

Some debt charities have criticised IVA providers for marketing them to people who would be better off either going bankrupt or coming to an informal arrangement with creditors.

"If the current trend continues, the number of IVAs will overtake the number of bankruptcy next year and that is an indication that the IVA solution is becoming more popular than is good for people," said Malcolm Hurlston, chairman of the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), a debt charity.

Lenders, too, are concerned at the rise in IVAs.

"Several lending institutions have raised concerns at these record levels and have commented on the limited extent to which the advice sector is regulated," Stephen Treharne, head of personal insolvency at accountancy firm KPMG, told BBC News.

In response, a leading IVA provider, Thomas Charles, told BBC News that they were reacting to a real consumer need and not pushing the IVA concept inappropriately.

"If somebody in debt talks to a debt advisory firm, they should be given a full understanding of all the options - including bankruptcy, IVAs and informal arrangement plans," said James Falla, managing director of Thomas Charles.

"The key is, advice has to be measured, correct and well-targeted. Nobody can enter an IVA without the acceptance of the creditors and that ultimately is the backstop," he added.

Rate rise

Problems for debtors may just be about to get worse.

Next week, the Bank of England will decide whether UK interest rates should rise, thereby pushing mortgage repayments higher.

Most analysts predict that an interest rate rise from 4.75% to 5% is on the cards.

"I fear that more consumers will fail to meet their minimum monthly credit card and loan payments and will have to consider taking formal steps to deal with their over-indebtedness," Mr Treharne said.

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