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Under half of British adults shoulder total UK personal debt burden

·         15% of British adults have five or more different debts;

·         One-in-four 25-44 year olds have five or more debts to their name;

·         One-in-five British adults are behind on a credit card.

The UK’s £1.5tn+ of personal debt is owed by under half of Britain’s adults, according to research by insolvency trade body R3.

Just over half (53%) of British adults told an R3/ComRes survey that they were debt free. 47% of British adults said they had at least one debt; 15% said they had five or more.

R3 says the fact that the UK’s personal debt is concentrated in such a relatively small group of adults is a cause for concern.

Stuart Frith, chair of R3’s Personal Insolvency Committee, says: “The UK’s personal debt burden is well-known to be eye-watering, but it’s especially worrying to see how unevenly spread this burden is.”

“The personal debt picture in the UK is one of extremes. While it’s encouraging that there are so many people out there that are debt free, there are still plenty of people with potentially little room for financial manoeuvre. It wouldn’t take too much – an interest rate rise, for example – to turn a manageable situation into an unmanageable one.”

Stuart Frith adds: “At the sharp end, where you have people with over five debts, the danger is that you have people caught in a debt trap: existing debts are only paid for by new ones.”

The survey found that those aged 25-44 are most likely to have extreme numbers of debts, with a quarter (24%) of this age group having five debts or more. In these age groups:

·         3.4% – equivalent to 582,759 people – are behind on five or more credit card bills;

·         2.6% – 445,640 people – have five or more mail order or catalogue debts;

·         2.4% – 411,360 people – have five or more bank overdrafts;

·         Another 2.3% in this age group have five or more debts to family or friends.

Stuart Frith adds: “Personal insolvencies are already on the rise, even with interest rates at a record low. The economy may be recovering and the financial crisis long over, but the same can’t be said of the personal debt crisis that’s arisen over the past decade.”

“Formal insolvency routes will offer a way out for some – and will help creditors see some of their money back too – but reform of our personal insolvency landscape is needed. Without this, we will see people stuck in debt and stuck outside the best ways of dealing with their debts.”

On average, British adults have 1.3 debts each (excluding outliers, those who said that they had more than 10 of any given type of debt). This rises to 1.98 for those aged 25-34 and falls to 0.62 for those aged 65 and over. 75% of those aged 65 and over say they are debt free; only 42% of 25-34 year olds say the same.

Outstanding credit card debts (where the full balance is not paid back every month) are Britain’s most common debt: one-in-five (20%) of British adults are behind on at least one credit card at the end of the month.

Proportion of British adults with a debt, by type of debt


Base: all GB adults (n=2,035)

Proportion of British adults with no debts or over five debts, by age


Base: all GB adults (n=2,035). All GB adults aged 18-24 (n=205), 25-34 (n=314), 35-44 (n=356), 45-54 (n=388), 55-64 (n=323), 65+ (n=449)

Proportion of British adults with a debt, by number of debts


Base: all GB adults (n=2,035)


  • ComRes interviewed 2,035 GB adults online between 18th and 20th July 2014. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all British adults aged 18+.
  • ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules ( This commits us to the highest standards of transparency.
  • Data tables are available on the ComRes website,

Notes to editors:

  • R3 is the trade body for Insolvency Professionals and represents the UK’s Insolvency Practitioners.

  • R3 comments on a wide variety of personal and corporate insolvency issues. Contact the press office, or see for further information.

  • R3 promotes best practice for professionals working with financially troubled individuals and businesses; all R3 members are regulated by recognised professional bodies
  • R3 stands for 'Rescue, Recovery, and Renewal' and is also known as the Association of Business Recovery Professionals.