The recession may be officially over but debt is a growing problem in Buckingham and Winslow, according to the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), which has had to step up its debt advice service.
In the past year, the Buckingham, Winslow and District CAB has helped people with a staggering £1.5 million of debt and saved 261 families from homelessness.
Staffed mainly by volunteers, the charity has dealt with over £582,000 of mortgage arrears and £250,000 of rent arrears.
Deputy manager Ian Payne said: “On the face of it, this area is pretty affluent but the reality is there are pockets of deprivation in the towns and villages.
“A typical week would see people coming in with £25,000 to £30,000 of debts that they need help dealing with.
“What’s interesting is, although the recession officially has finished, there’s still an increase.
“Somebody said to me the other week: ‘Buckingham’s an expensive place to be poor in.’
“Rent is expensive, public transport is expensive, the cost of petrol is expensive and the poor chap had just got an eight per cent rise in his energy costs as well.
“By and large, for many people, wages simply haven’t kept pace with inflation.
“And that’s if you’re in work. For people on benefits, the situation can be worse.
“The good news is, in 99 per cent of cases, if they come to the CAB there’s something we can do to help.
“I know it’s a huge step for a lot of people to admit they’ve got a problem and ask for help.
“But we have specialist advisors who can help with claiming benefits and negotiate with creditors on their behalf.
“Very often creditors are more open to negotiating with us than they would be with the individual.”
Sometimes clients turn up with a carrier bag full of brown envelopes containing unpaid bills.
“What is very common for people who find themselves in debt is they go through a phase of denying they’ve got a problem,” said Mr Payne.
“When people do present to the bureau for the first time, they’ve almost got a feeling of guilt they haven’t been able to deal with it.
“But the sooner they come to ask for help, the easier it is to sort out.”
On average, the CAB works with a client for about a year to get them back on track.
It even offers a home visiting service for people who really cannot get to the office.
Mr Payne said: “It’s labour intensive, it’s quite specialised work but at the end of it the client’s life is back on an even keel.
“One of the great rewards of working here is you can see people coming through the front door with the world on their shoulders and leave with more of a spring in their step.”
The bureau, on Market Hill, Buckingham, is open on Mondays and Fridays from 10am to 1pm, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10am to 3pm and on Thursdays from noon to 5pm.
Its outreach office in Winslow Town Council offices on the High Street, is open on Wednesdays from 10am to 1pm.
The advice line is open weekdays from 10am to 4pm on 0844 245 1289.