Debt advisers are at risk of burnout as an overwhelming number of people seek help to pay rent and feed their families, MSPs have been told.
The Social Justice and Social Security Committee heard pleas from advisers across Scotland for more support in helping clients with cost-of-living struggles.
The issue has exacerbated significantly in the past year, MSPs heard, as families are no longer able to pay off historical credit debts and are instead fighting to keep their homes.
Jim McPake, debt adviser at North Lanarkshire Council, told the committee that staff are “hanging on by their finger tips” as the service has seen a 42% increase in referrals since the start of the year.
He said: “The types of cases that we are seeing is alarming. Historically we would easily have said credit cards and perhaps online loans would have been a very demanding area.
“Our biggest demand now is rent, council tax and fuel costs – the areas that individuals simply must pay.”
With the cost-of-living crisis expected to continue to hit low income families hard in the year ahead, Mr McPake said he is “frightened” for the future.
He added: “We cannot help people to pay traditional debts because we’re trying to advise people how to keep their house and how to put food in their mouth – it is that alarming.”
Charlene Kane, armed services advice project regional support officer at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Denny and Dunipace, urged the Scottish Government to do more to help advisers juggle staffing concerns and the debt crisis.
She said: “Trying to prioritise people and what their needs are is becoming increasingly difficult for one person in the bureau.
“Our money advisers are burned out with dealing with creditors on a daily basis who don’t understand the impact on what we are seeing here in black and white – 75% of our cases are all debt [related].”
MSPs heard funding is needed to increase staffing within local authority debt centres.
The Scottish Government must also do more to help people through the cost-of-living crisis, particularly as fuel costs increase, the committee heard.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it was “committed to supporting debt advice services”.
“We will invest approximately £12 million in 2022-23 in free income, welfare and debt advice services, ensuring that those who are most in need are able to access support. This investment includes support to Money Advice Scotland to provide wellbeing training and support to advisers,” the spokesman said.
“We continue to work with debt advice services to understand and respond to the continuing impacts of the rising cost of living on advice services. This will ensure that our funding continues to support advisers to deliver their important work and reach those people who are struggling the most.”