Debt in rural communities

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Cheshire East Council is working closely with Cheshire East Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in a bid to drive down debt in rural communities.

The CAB says there is a common misconception that people living in the country are immune to the effects of a downturn in the economy. However, the reality is that many rural people may be asset rich, but cash poor.

Now Cheshire East Council’s Nantwich Local Area Partnership is working alongside agencies, including the CAB and Cheshire Neighbours Credit Union, to offer help, advice and solutions.

Councillor Rachel Bailey, Cabinet member with responsibility for safer and stronger communities, said: “Debt threatens all households, not just in high population urban areas.

 “Just because people live in rural communities, it does not mean they are immune from financial pressures. In fact, it can be worse as employment is harder to find.

“There’s an assumption that if you live in the country you have a certain amount of wealth.

“In reality property can be expensive to maintain and without a stable source of income, out-goings can soon mount up.

“What we would like to offer, in conjunction with our partners, is a service to address this largely hidden problem by offering a multi-agency advice and solution service.”

Liz Shaw of Cheshire East’s CAB service said: “We welcome Cheshire East Council’s support with this issue as it is a growing problem and one that needs addressing.

“Figures show that rural communities are suffering as much as those in urban and suburban areas.

“We would like to reassure people in rural areas that there is a service here to help and we understand the barriers to finding ways out of rural debt.”

Case Study:

Mabel (not her real name) is a 76 year old widow, living in rented accommodation in a rural location. She has a hearing impairment and is receiving hospital treatment as she regularly falls.  She relies heavily on her daughter to help her with day-to- day activities such as housework, shopping, trips to the GP, hospital appointments and generally managing her affairs.  She says she feels quite isolated and is distressed as she has debts she is unable to manage.

She has a monthly income of £1,050 made up of state retirement pension, pension credit and attendance allowance.  Her monthly outgoings include £140 per month for a cylinder gas supply as there is no mains supply in her village.  As this cost represents more than 10% of her income, she is officially experiencing ‘fuel poverty’. 

Ordinarily, for clients that benefit from a mains gas supply, we are able to help them find cheaper tariffs to reduce their costs. In this case, purely because the client lives in a rural location, we are unable to find any alternatives that would reduce the cost of her fuel. 

However we were able to negotiate with her creditors and agree reduced repayments to assist in her being able to meet her everyday living expenses.

Facts and Figures:

Various reports show that an estimated one in four rural households is living in fuel poverty.  This is exacerbated by many homes having solid walls and non-mains gas supply and lower than average incomes.

In 2008/9 only 15 per cent of ‘warm front grants’ were awarded to rural areas.

Households in fuel poverty are more likely to have someone in the home suffering from asthma, respiratory or heart-related illness and/or, have someone in the home with a disability or long term illness. 

The vast majority of these households — and even more of the households with children under 16 — are rationing their fuel in winter, which could aggravate their health condition.

Large numbers of rural householders living in fuel poverty are going without other things to pay for fuel and high numbers are experiencing fuel debt. Rural households with children under 16 years old are particularly affected by these impacts.