One in 10 clients of a debt charity have no bed to sleep in and eight in 10 say their financial situation leads to sleepless nights.
A review of visitors to Christians Against Poverty also found that three-quarters of them were afraid to open their post.
The charity said that the survey exposed the day-to-day realities of living with unmanageable debt.
The average debt of new clients seeking help last year was £14,298.
Among the practical effects of debt identified by the charity were:
- A third of clients having gone without at least one essential item, such as a washing machine, causing inconvenience and extra cost by visiting laundrettes and other services
- A fifth of those asked had rented or bought at least one item on hire purchase
- A fifth had no internet access, blocking them from cheaper deals on utilities such as energy
Some 91% of clients had used some form of credit to pay an essential bill or other debt.
This money was borrowed primarily from friends and family (64%), and credit cards (64%) followed by overdrafts (55%).
“This is an unsustainable solution that pushes the financial crunch point further down the line, but escalates the level of debt when this happens,” the charity’s annual review found.
“Shame, fear and believing no one can help cause clients to delay seeking help for two years on average. This extended period of financial hardship and worry sees living standards and mental health deteriorate as debts spiral out of control.
“This means seven in 10 end up behind with a priority bill and average debt levels hit more than £14,000 before clients get the help they need.”
A separate survey of debt by financial services company True Potential suggested that debt tolerance was higher among men.
The average debt threshold, excluding mortgages, was £1,797, with men reaching debts of £1,960 before recognising it as a problem, compared with £1,645 among women. Adults under 25 reached £748 of debt before worries set in, compared with a figure of £2,299 among 45 to 54-year-olds.
“Personal debt is the elephant in the room. Consumer confidence and spending have been creeping up but there is growing concern that it is built on quicksand in the shape of rising individual debts. Underpinning this is easy access to debt, the costs of which are poorly understood,” said managing partner David Harrison.
“But this is not just about people splashing cash they don’t have. A big worry is the proportion of people needing debt just to get by. That’s a bubble waiting to burst. The cost of living is 2.7% higher today compared to a year ago, adding an extra £468 to household bills.”