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£55bn of secret debt

Press release April 26, 2010 Economy

Alarming number of Brits keeps their debts secret from loved ones...

According to a survey by OnePoll for the Post Office £55bn of debt is kept secret by people in the UK.

2,258 UK consumers took part in the survey which found that 31% of people hide debts from family members; 16% of women and 28% of men do not let their partners know how much debt they owe.

An example taken from the web site was Nigel; a 69 year old living near Bath who was not aware that his wife had run up debts of more than £50,000 using credit cards and store cards.

Nigel thinks the credit card companies have acted irresponsibly, he said: "They were sending through pre-authorised cards to my wife. She had ticked a box stating that she was a homeowner but I was kept in the dark even though I jointly own the house with her."

"The credit card companies should inform co-owners if their partners are running up huge debts, which could affect the family home."

"The debt does of course need to be repaid. We have had to take out a mortgage on the house, which I can cover with my pension, but this was not how I hoped to be spending my retirement."

The issue here is that although credit cards and store cards are taken out on a personal or individual basis ultimately a family home could be at risk if these debts are left unpaid. Credit card companies do not inform partners or joint owners of a property if one runs up huge bills.

Craig Gedey Marketing Manager at Debt Advisory Line said: "Many people will think Nigel's situation is unfair but this is quite a frequent occurrence, as the statistics show, when it comes to debt management."

"People need to take responsibility for the debts they owe but perhaps understandably many people feel the situation is best kept to themselves, which can lead to a more stressful situation in the future if debts are left ignored."

Legally the joint owner of a property is not liable for their partners debts, however the lenders can legally demand any equity owned by the debtor. In most cases this means the property will have to be sold.

Lesley McCloud from the British Bankers Association (BBA) said: "If customers do not keep up payments, banks try to come up with a mutually acceptable repayment plan."

"Only if that completely breaks down will they go to court to try to get the money back. It is during that process when assets are considered. Even then it would be a last resort to force a sale. More commonly the debt is covered when the house is sold voluntarily."

Chris Tapp, from debt advice charity Credit Action, said: "You can find out if you are linked to another person's debt by running a credit check."

"Re-mortgaging your home may not be the best option if you are in debt. A good debt management plan is an alternative. The most important thing is to speak to your lenders and seek independent advice from a debt advice charity."