Posted: 17 November 2016

Give children and families in debt space to breathe

Published today, new statistics from a survey of 2,000 adults show the scale of debt facing children and families across England and Wales. Today’s findings show families with children are more than twice as likely to have been trapped in problem debt as households without children, with 2.4 million children living in families who have fallen behind on their debts in the last 12 months. 

Living in households with problem debt can leave children at risk of developing mental health problems with families unable to afford some of the basics for their children and being forced to take out further credit, including payday loans to make ends meet.

Giving children and families space to breathe

We want to see families given the support they need to get their finances back on track rather than being pushed further into a debt trap and we are calling on the Government to introduce a breathing space scheme to support families and children in debt.  What can start as a life event – a bereavement, illness or losing a job – can become a long-term cycle of debt as rather than being supported out of debt families instead face mounting interest, enforcement visits from bailiffs and fees and charges added to debts they are already struggling to afford.

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We know that a breathing space can make a real difference.  According to research from StepChange Debt Charity 60% of their clients said their financial situation has stabilised once their creditors agreed to freeze further interest, charges and enforcement action.  Without this families can see a huge amount added to their debts   

Today we are publishing a draft Bill that if adopted by the Government would provide the legally binding breathing space that millions of children and families need.  The Bill – known as the Debt Respite Bill – and scheduled to be debated by MPs in the New Year, would introduce a yearlong period of protection where families would have the space to stabilise their finances, plan their monthly budgeting and agree a longer-term debt repayment plan.  A continued freeze on interest, charges and enforcement action would continue to apply as long as the debt repayment plan was in place to support families to pay off their debts in a safe and affordable way, ultimately protecting any children in the household.

Learning lessons from Scotland

We know this is possible.  A comparable scheme already exists in Scotland – known as the Debt Arrangement Scheme (DAS).  As of September this year, there were over 13,000 ‘live cases’ within the DAS with £38m repaid through the scheme in 2015-16.  That is £38m repaid by families and individuals free from the fear of a bailiff knocking at the door or extra debts being added to what they owe faster than their debts can be repaid. 

We are now calling on the Government to introduce a comparable scheme across England and Wales.  We know the Government are considering the options available to families in debt and we need to make sure a legally binding breathing space is adopted as part of this review.

Sign our petition

The impact of debt in your area

There are an estimated 2.4 million children in England and Wales living in families with problem debt. Use our interactive map to see how many children and families are affected in your local area, and take action to protect children from the damages of debt.


  • For the purpose of this research, a family with ‘problem debt’ is one which has fallen behind on the repayments of bills or credit commitments. Families with debt, but where they are keeping up with payments, are not included.
  • Findings about numbers of children and families in problem debt are based on a survey of 2,000 adults across the UK. The survey was conducted by Opinium in November 2016 and used a representative sample of adults across the UK.
  • These figures have been broken down by The Children’s Society from regional data to produce a local authority level estimate on the basis of the most recently available individual insolvency statistics which can be found on Insolvency Direct. Individual insolvency statistics were used as a proxy for the level of financial difficulty in a local authority area within a region. The relative incidence of individual insolvency within a local authority area in a region was used to estimate the number of families in problem debt in that area relative to other areas within the same region. We are aware other proxies for levels of financial distress in regions and constituencies can be used. This analysis is The Children’s Society’s own and is independent of the survey conducted by Opinium.
By Lucy Dacey - Programme staff

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