A DEBT advice charity has expressed concern over the impact of Black Friday and the festive period on people struggling with the cost of living crisis.

StepChange is already seeing people worried about becoming homeless because they can’t pay their bills.

Others are using credit to buy food.

The charity is warning that more people are going to end up in debt by Boxing Day and is calling on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ease the pressure by increasing benefits in line with inflation in the forthcoming Budget.

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“Last year we actually had around 50 people get in touch with us on Christmas Day because they were worried about debt,” said Sharon Bell of StepChange, which is helping around 40,000 people across Scotland.

“It should be a lovely time and it is horrible to think that people are so low they are worried about debt on Christmas Day.”

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has reported a 65% increase in people taking five to 30 years to pay off their debts, based on client data from spring 2021 until earlier this year – before the cost of living crisis really hit home.

CAS Financial Health spokesperson Jemiel Benison, pictured, said the UK Government’s decision to cut £20 per week from Universal Credit has had a devastating impact on those in debt.

Backing calls on Sunak to increase benefits in line with inflation, he said: “What we see is more people with no money left every month not able to pay down their debt – so facing longer periods to clear it.

“If the worst is to come in terms of inflation or a recession, that is very worrying indeed.”

StepChange said the hype around Black Friday on November 25 could tempt people into buying items on credit which would then put even more pressure on them at Christmas.

“People in debt are already worrying about Christmas and whether they are going to be able to afford it,” said the charity’s Sharon Bell. “We already have people coming to us who are having to use credit to buy their messages because they can’t afford any other way. They just don’t have enough to live on and families are contacting us saying they don’t know where to use their power to put the lights on and feed their kids or whether to use it for other things like their kids doing homework on the computer.”

“We are also seeing more of clients who are just not able to maintain their home and cover their bills.”

January, when credit card bills arrive, is the charity’s busiest time of year.

“The additional cost from Christmas is something we are very conscious of at the charity,” said Bell.

“For many, this Christmas is going to be very stressful and a real worry but our message is that there is help available. Don’t think you are alone in this and try to build the courage to pick up the phone or go online to get the help you need.”

Bell said others who are better off could look into supporting people who are struggling.

“Christmas should be a time of love and giving but a lot of people worry about it so we would encourage others who are better off to support their local foodbank or a homeless charity as there are going to be a lot more people than before who are homeless who will need help,” she said.

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StepChange have a 68 strong team supporting people all over Scotland who have financial concerns.

As they are based in Glasgow, they are also supporting this year’s Glasgow Times Bank on Us Appeal which is aimed at saving Christmas for families across the city.

It is calling on Glaswegians to donate toys to youngsters throughout the city and take pressure off hard working mums, dads and guardians who are facing an uncertain festive period due to the continuing crisis. The aim is for every child in Glasgow to open a present on December 25.

Online debt advice is available at www.stepchange.org/scotland or call 0800 138 1111 (Monday to Friday 8am-8pm and Saturdays 8am-4pm).