FAMILIES in Bolton are drowning under the weight of debts owed for vital services.

Many people are struggling to keep relationships from breaking down and some are unable to get three meals a day, according to Christians Against Poverty (CAP).

The finance charity says it is seeing an increasing number of people - nearly a third of families it works with - who are trapped by "priority debt" owed for essential things, such as council tax, housing costs, electricity and gas.

Joan Spragg is one of the people receiving help from CAP after she fell into a spiral of problems with rising bills, health concerns and a lack of income.

The 55-year-old former social service worker retired because of ill health but, after losing access to her Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and several other benefits, she saw her monthly income fall from more than £2,000 down to just her private pension of £472.

Since then, mounting debts owed for gas, electricity and council tax have left the Halliwell resident in an £1,800 hole.

She has had to sell her car and has been visited by bailiffs on three occasions.

"I can’t even afford to eat, I’m diabetic and I’m supposed to have three meals a day but I’m currently on one," Mr Spragg explained.

"My money has gone down slowly but surely and I have not had credit a long time," she said.

"I’m not stupid enough to get loans but I need food.

"It’s either pay your gas and electric or get food. I’m trying to adjust things and balance things out but it’s really hard."

Ms Spragg's situation is not an anomaly, according to Sam Wolstencroft, Bolton North CAP Debt Centre Manager, who says she has worked with hundreds of families in similar binds over the last five years.

"Being on a low income can make paying for essentials and managing arrears feel impossible", she said.

"80 per cent of parents are struggling with providing the basics for their families and are desperately aware of the negative effects of household debt on their children."

A recent survey by CAP showed that more than a third of the debts owed by people who come to the charity for help are "priority debts", placing an even greater pressure on families or couples because they feel they could lose their homes or essential services.

Ms Spragg explained that dealing with family members in these situations can be extremely difficult.

She said: "I have had bailiffs at my door three times. I had to pay the council £50 a month and that’s my council tax bill. They don’t take you to court they just send in the debt collectors.

"It’s awful having to go to your own children and ask to borrow £300 or £400 because they debt collectors are at the door. But you have to pay them."

After working with CAP on a weekly budget, Ms Spragg is confident she will be able to pay off her debts.

However, with the low income she receives compared to the amount she owes, it could take as long as ten years to fully repay the bills.

Five facts: Battling with debt

THE SCALE of debt owed for things like gas, electricity and council tax has been laid bare in a recent report.

Charity Christian’s Against Poverty (CAP) works with families across the country to help people escape the impact of these bills.

Earlier this month, the group released details on its last year of work.


The number of families across the country who visited CAP to ask for help after struggling under the weight of debts.


This is the average amount owed by families who turn to CAP. More than half had taken out credit to pay a household bill.


Half of the people who have asked for help in the last year were aged between 40-64. Another 37 per cent were aged between 25-39


Two-thirds of these families are living below the poverty line, with an average household income of just £12,300 a year.


Almost nine in ten people said they were struggling to sleep because of worry, with 43 per cent visiting their GP because of health concerns.