Disabled in Debt

by : Michael Challiner

Disabled people have lower incomes but often have extra costs associated with their impairment. This situation drives two out of five disabled people to seek loans and other forms of credit to meet the demands of higher living costs on a below-average income. The result is that many people are being driven into 'problem debts', which are often loans they are left unable to repay.

The Leonard Cheshire disability charity is calling on the UK Government and the credit industry to help alleviate the burden of this debt. A survey by the charity found that nine out of 10 of people found themselves running out of money on a regular basis.

It also found that more than half did not earn enough to meet their basic needs and were on incomes of less than ?10,000 a year. Many also found it nearly impossible to change jobs or careers in order to earn higher, more appropriate incomes.

Almost 40 per cent of those surveyed were dealing with existing debt by taking on more borrowing. However, most also said that lenders were not very flexible when discussing repayments and showed little understanding of the way their disability affected their daily lives.

Leonard Cheshire said: "Whilst easy access to credit is part of the problem, for disabled people a significant amount of debt comes from essential purchases...this leaves disabled people particularly vulnerable to spiraling debt which they have little prospect of clearing."

The disability charity's report also documented the effect debt was having on people's well-being. It found that most felt that it was having a negative impact on their health and another 12 per cent said that they had contemplated suicide because of concerns over their financial situation.

While problem debt is often associated with over-spending on luxury goods, Leonard Cheshire said that disabled people are borrowing to cover just their cost of living which is often much higher than their incomes plus the benefits they might receive.

Many disabled people have additional costs relating to their impairments for things such as electric wheelchairs, stair lifts and other home adaptations including extra heating costs and personal care that is not normally available through the NHS.

Leonard Cheshire is urging the credit industry and the UK Government to make a number of changes, including:

?Making responsible lending a legal requirement which all lenders must comply with
?Showing on the loan statements how long it would take to clear a the lending with the minimum monthly payment
?They want talks with the lenders to persuade lenders to be willing to write off debts when a customer becomes registered disabled
?Lenders being prohibited to raise a customer's credit limit unless the customer specifically requests it.

The charity's survey also found that living with high levels of debt often worsened a disabled person's sense of exclusion.

The situation is unlikely to change while so many disabled people already rely on benefits as their main source of income. It also highlights the necessity for the Government to review the level of benefits available for the disabled. If they genuinely cannot survive on the money being provided, then more money must surely be found.