People getting advice on debts are increasingly likely to work part time rather than full time, new data has shown.

According to figures from StepChange Debt Charity, nearly one in five people (19%) who came to the charity for help in 2015 were in part-time work, compared to 16% in 2011.

Over the same period, the proportion of people in full-time work dropped from 34% in 2011 to 30% in 2015.

The data, released as part of the charity’s annual Statistics Yearbook, also show that a third of those part-time workers now owe money on their essential household bills, including rent or mortgages and council tax.

We urgently need more effective safety nets to support people when their income drops to prevent them from falling into difficulty

Mike O'Connor, chief executive, StepChange Debt Charity
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The yearbook provides a snapshot of the lives of half a million people in problem debt in the UK, looking at the demand for debt advice and where this demand comes from.

It found some dramatic differences between full-time and part-time workers in terms of the number who are in arrears on bills like rent and council tax.

A third of the charity’s part-time clients owed money on their rent, compared to just 22% of full time workers. The figures for council tax were 37% and 28% respectively. 

StepChange said certain types of work, including part time, can leave people more vulnerable to so-called ‘income shocks’, like volatile amounts of pay, a reduction in working hours or job loss, leaving them struggling to meet the costs of their bills.

14m people suffered a shock to their income in the last year, with 4.5m hit by at least two, StepChange said.

But part-time workers were more likely to be hit by such ‘income shock’, with figures from the charity showing that 42% had suffered one in the last 12 months, compared to just 29% of those working full time.

Such shocks can force people into relying on credit – around 6.5m people used credit to cope after an income shock, which left them 20 times more likely to fall into severe problem debt.

StepChange says £1,000 in savings would prevent half a million families falling into debt. Image by Lisa S./Shutterstock.com

According to StepChange, part-time workers were over-represented in last year’s figures compared to national statistics – making up 19% of the charity’s clients, while only 17% of UK adults work part time.

Full-time workers made up 30% of StepChange’s clients compared to 45% of people nationally.

Mike O’Connor, chief executive of StepChange Debt Charity, said: “The pressure of trying to manage a budget that is stretched to the limit can be difficult at the best of times, but for those with insecure work, volatile incomes and little or no savings, it can be overwhelming.

“These are already facts of life for millions of people and their numbers continue to increase.

“We urgently need more effective safety nets to support people when their income drops to prevent them from falling into difficulty.

“We also need to ensure that everyone has the support they need to build up precautionary savings for when the worst happens.

“The recent government announcement on savings is an important step, but it will not completely solve the problem.

“With £1,000 in savings, half a million families would be prevented from falling into problem debt and this needs to become the reality, not just an aspiration.”

StepChange Debt Charity’s Statistics Yearbook uses data drawn from 20.5m calls and more than 3m clients. 

It examines trends, including breakdowns of types of debt, arrears on household bills and demographics of those in debt. 2015 figures are based on the 307,043 new clients that year.