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StepChange Debt Charity’s Director of External Affairs, Richard Lane, highlighted in a recent BBC news article that Wales is experiencing worrying levels of indebtedness and financial instability, creating a ‘debt time bomb’. He explained that the accumulation of arrears is mostly concentrated amongst individuals who were already struggling pre-pandemic, such as young people, lone-parents, renters, and people on lower incomes.

Registry Trust maintains the Register of Judgment, Orders and Fines for England & Wales and has first-hand data regarding indebtedness across the UK. We thought it would prove useful to compare Richard’s statements to our own data and highlight regions which appear to have been worst affected by the pandemic regarding indebtedness.

The maps below detail the number of County Court Judgments (CCJs) recorded in each region of Wales for quarter two, quarter three, and quarter four of 2020. The onset of the pandemic caused a number of courts to close to aid social distancing. This means that in quarter two, significantly fewer transactions were processed. As the judgment process returned to normality, the maps below show the number of judgments that were then administered in each quarter.

In quarter four of 2020 the number of judgments processed was greatest in the North East (North Wales Borders) and South/South West of Wales (Carmarthenshire, Swansea, Cardiff and South Wales Valleys). The surge in judgments in these regions may be representative of higher rates of indebtedness than regions of a steady rate.

Regions that showed little increase in judgment rate after the initial shock of the pandemic include Ceredigion (West Wales) and Usk and Wye Valleys (South East Wales).

Figure 1: These maps show the number of quarterly judgments in 2020, therefore do not account for population density.

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A closer insight into the economic condition of Wales can be viewed by evaluating the percentage of transactions which are judgments, satisfactions, or cancellations, rather than the raw number as above. In Wales, from quarter 2 to quarter 4 of 2020, the percentage of all transactions that are judgments increased from 44.75% to 76.24%. Meanwhile, the percentage of all transactions that were ‘satisfied’ (paid in full and formally marked as such on the Register) decreased from 64.64% to just 18.98%. Cancellations also decreased from 8.60% to just 4.77%. To compare these statistics to another nation, the percentage of judgments in Northern Ireland decreased over the same time-frame.

Figure 2: The percentage of judgments, satisfactions, and cancellations for Q2, Q3 and Q4 in 2020.

RT Wales debt graph 1.png

RT Wales debt table 1.png

According to the Welsh Government, in recent years the UK had consistently higher GDP per head than the European Union average. However, this has not been the case for two Welsh sub-regions: East Wales, and West Wales and the Valleys. In fact, in 2017, West Wales and the Valleys had only 66% of the European Union average, resulting in its classification as a less developed region. It is likely that these regions are less financially resilient to economic shock, therefore less able to cope with the financial constraints of the pandemic.

Local Authority level analysis gives a closer insight into where this increase in CCJ debts is taking place. The images below show the percentage of transactions that are judgments increases from quarter two to quarter three of 2020, and quarter three to quarter four, in all Local Authorities of Wales.

Take the Valleys for example: In Carmarthenshire, the percentage of CCJs increased from 43% to 67% to 76%, from quarter two to quarter four 2020. Similarly, in Vale of Glamorgan, judgments increased from 44% to 58% to 73%, and in Monmouthshire from 49% to 62% to 76%.

In quarter four of 2020 in both Merthyr Tydfil and Newport, a staggering 80% of transactions were judgments. The Isle of Anglesey has the lowest percentage of judgments in quarter four, at only 69%.

RT Wales debt graphs 2.png

As the financially supportive measures introduced during the pandemic are gradually removed, including the decrease in Universal Credit, the removal of Payment Holidays and the reduction in furlough, this will have a further detrimental impact on financial vulnerability in these areas. There is expected to be a surge in cases of indebtedness with further damage to mental health. The Head of Policy and Campaigns at Citizens Advice Wales reports that some councils have already reinstated debt collection practices for council taxes, even during the national lockdown.

With two regions of Wales failing to reach the European Union average for GDP, it is clear that additional financially stabilising investment is required to reduce the vulnerability of its residents. This may be in the form of increased debt advice availability, or improved education on being ‘financially fit’ and ‘satisfying’ CCJs to protect credit scores.

Our public website TrustOnline, where anyone can check a person, business or case number on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines, has lots of useful information about CCJs, credit scores, and more. Visit https://www.trustonline.org.uk/help-topics/.

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