Business

Personal insolvencies at new high in England and Wales

Cash, cards and bills
Image caption The effect of the recession is still being felt with personal insolvencies

A new record high has been recorded for the number of people being declared insolvent in England and Wales.

There were 35,682 personal insolvencies in the first three months of 2010, a 17.9% increase compared with the same period a year earlier.

But the figure has levelled off compared with previous quarters, rising by only 108 individuals since the last three months of 2009.

The number of companies going bust fell sharply, the figures show.

In the first three months of the year, there were 1,343 receiverships, administrations or company voluntary arrangements - all forms of corporate insolvency. This was down 8% on the previous quarter and a fall of 25% on the same period a year earlier.

The number of companies being liquidated - the end stage of the insolvency process - also dropped. There were 4,082, 8% fewer than the previous three months and 18% down on the same quarter a year earlier.

Bankrupt

This is the fifth consecutive quarter that the number of people being declared insolvent has reached a new high.

As in late 2009, the record numbers were due in part to the number of people who have found themselves out of a job during the recession, but with debts to pay off.

However, continued record low interest rates would have saved some people from insolvency, especially with mortgage costs remaining low.

Although the number of personal insolvencies merely crept up, there was some variation in the ways in which people went insolvent, the figures show.

There were 18,256 bankruptcies - the traditional way of dealing with overwhelming debt. This was down 10.7% on the same period the previous year, but up 7.3% on the previous quarter.

The new style of dealing with relatively small debts - Debt Relief Orders (DROs) - grew again to 5,644.

DROs are a new and cheaper form of insolvency procedure aimed at helping people wipe the slate clean if they have debts of less than £15,000 and few assets.

The number of Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs), which see people come to an official deal with their creditors, stood at 11,782.

This was up 20.1% on the same period a year earlier, but at the lowest level since the first three months of 2009.

This might be because job losses mean fewer people are able to afford regular repayments on their debts, forcing them to consider "last resort" options such as bankruptcy, rather than IVAs.

Reaction

"Many people who have been struggling with big debts and reduced income have managed to survive the past two years because of low interest rates. If interest rates had been any higher, the figures would have been considerably worse," said insolvency practitioner Alan Tomlinson.

Image caption Some experts said that the figures could rise again in the future

"When interest rates rise, and rising inflation suggests that this could happen sooner rather than later, the number of people facing real financial difficulties will spike sharply.

"The levelling-off in individual insolvencies that we are seeing is therefore likely to be short-lived."

He said the economic decisions made in Westminster would have a key effect on the future direction of personal insolvencies.

Chris Nutting, of accountants KPMG, said: "If, as predicted, the new government raise taxes and reduce public sector spending, a lot of people will need to take drastic action to resolve their financial problems, such as applying for bankruptcy.

"The cost of filing your own petition in bankruptcy rose from £510 to £600 in April, but this does not seem to have caused any reduction in the number of people filing their own petitions."

"Whilst the UK is technically out of recession, the harsh reality is that many people are still living beyond their means. History shows that personal insolvencies will continue to rise for some time after the recession finally ends."

The number of personal insolvencies far outstrips the figures from the previous recession in 1992 and 1993.

It is now far easier to go bankrupt and the levels of personal debt are much greater.

On the corporate front, Mr Tomlinson said that this fall was likely to be short-lived too.

"The number of company liquidations appears to have peaked and this is welcome in that it shows companies have become battle-hardened and are finding ways to survive," he said.

"But the number of companies folding will almost certainly rise in the months ahead because of the lag effect."

Cash flow, a lack of lending from banks, suppliers paying late and HM Revenue and Customs calling in its debts had put companies under pressure, he added.

"The business community needs political certainty and direction, but certainty and direction, for the time being at least, remain out of reach."

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