THE NUMBER of Scots who pay for their gas and electricity bills using credit cards or loans has more than doubled in the past year, as more families find themselves under financial pressure, new research has revealed.
One in ten people north of the Border has admitted using credit to fund utility bills – up from just 4 per cent 12 months ago. And a fifth of those surveyed said they were worried about how they would pay their next bill, according to debt advice body, the Debt Advisory Centre Scotland (Dacs).
The report comes as the Big Six energy firms – which include ScottishPower and Perth-based SSE – are facing an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, which in turn is expected to lead to the biggest shake-up yet of the sector.
The industry has come under fire from consumer groups and politicians amid spiralling household bills and increasing profits at the major companies. High utility bills have often been cited as one of the most concerning financial pressures on cash-strapped households.
“One in ten Scottish residents covering bills in this way is definitely cause for concern, and it’s no surprise that such a high number of respondents said they were worried about paying for next month’s gas and electricity,” said Ian Williams, spokesman for Dacs.
“The fact that more people are paying for everyday expenses by taking out a loan or using a credit card is worrying, as these bills should be among their first priorities. If this problem has arisen because people are concentrating on repaying their other outstanding debts, they might want to think about getting help to get their finances back on track.”
The proportion of Scots using credit to pay bills, however, is below the UK average of 12 per cent, which has also rocketed from just 5 per cent a year ago.
Despite the dramatic year-on-year rise, the proportion of people using credit has actually fallen from 12.5 per cent six months ago, but experts said the figure was still worrying.
“Sadly, these figures are not surprising to us,” said Citizens Advice Scotland spokesman Fraser Sutherland. “Every CAB in Scotland continues to report huge numbers of clients struggling with debt problems and unable to make ends meet. Last year, we saw 247,000 cases that were debt-related. That’s 27 per cent of all the cases we dealt with and more than we’ve ever seen in a single year.
“It’s very worrying that so many people are in this situation.
“The impact of the recession clearly continues to bite in every community. And for many, the situation is made worse by the impact of the welfare reforms.
“Our message to both the UK and the Scottish governments is that they need to make sure that people who need additional support get it.”