Social Justice

Unsecured debt such as credit cards and loans at highest level in a decade, charity warns

StepChange Debt Charity has raised the alarm that people struggling with their finances are turning to credit more than ever

debt/ credit card

Unsecured debt includes things like credit card debt and personal loans. Image: Unsplash

Unsecured debt was at its highest level in a decade in 2023, a leading debt charity has found.

StepChange Debt Charity’s annual statistics showed that the average unsecured debt was £14,654 in 2023.

Unsecured debt accounts for all debts recorded at the time of advice, other than arrears on essential household bills and secured lending against a property.

It’s up by more than £1,000 on the previous year, the rise driven mainly by higher amounts of credit card and personal loan debts.

On average, one new person requested full debt advice every three minutes last year.

Vikki Brownridge, chief executive at StepChangeDebt Charity, said: “Over the past year we’ve really begun to see the impact of the cost of living crisis take hold. Particularly among those on low incomes, household financial insecurity is a growing threat. Both a rise in household arrears and unsecured debt amounts suggests those struggling are turning to credit to cover their essentials more than ever. 

“With the amount of money our clients have leftover each month after covering the basics becoming more stretched, it’s a real concern that people don’t have the safety nets to fall back on if they’re faced with a shock that impacts their finances like ill health or redundancy.”

With the cost of essential bills rising rapidly over the course of the last two years, the average amount of household arrears among StepChange clients has risen to £3,124. It’s up from £2,833 in 2022.

The charity continues to see a high number of women seeking debt advice, with more than three in five (63%) of all new clients being women. People aged 25 to 44 represent 60% of the client base.



The proportion of clients in receipt of universal credit rose by 3%, up to 37%, in 2023 in comparison to the previous year.

Brownridge added: “As we edge ever closer to a general election, we’re urging this government and the next to really focus on building financial resilience among households. Measures like social tariffs for essential utilities, a robust and adequate benefit system and a commitment to building low-income savings, would make a real difference to the lives of those struggling day in and day out just to get by.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Where to get help if you are struggling with debt

StepChange provides confidential and free expert advice on debt, as well as tips on budgeting, financial advice, and ways to prioritise your debts. 

Citizens Advice provides help to deal with problem debt, to avoid losing your home and to get back on top of your finances. 

Money Advice Trust operates a confidential national debtline which is available over the phone or via webchat.

Mental Health & Money Advice provides practical tips to lessen the strain of the financial crisis and maintain your mental wellbeing. 

MoneyHelper offers guidance to help you through the often-stressful situation of talking to a creditor about money you owe them, how to navigate credit and Buy Now Pay Later agreements, and other money concerns.

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