HUNDREDS of people in Dudley sought legal protection after struggling with problem debt, new figures show.

In May 2021, the Government launched its Debt Respite Scheme which saw people unable to pay debts become eligible for a "breathing space", which means creditors cannot pursue legal action against them while they sort their finances out.

There are two types of breathing space – a "standard" one, which gives legal protection from debt collection for up to 60 days, and one for those undergoing treatment for a mental health crisis.

The latter gives protection for the length of their treatment, and for 30 days after.

Data from the Government's Insolvency Service shows 400 people were given a breathing space in Dudley between May 2021 and April this year.

Breathing spaces can only be granted by an organisation that gives advice and support on debt – such as StepChange, a debt charity responsible for two-thirds of all breathing spaces during the first 12 months of the scheme.

Sue Anderson, head of media at the charity, said while there were "lessons to learn" from the first year of the scheme, it had broadly been a success.

But she warned inflation is pushing more people into debt.

She said: “The steep rise in the cost of living has increased the risk of falling into problem debt – more acutely for financially vulnerable households, with StepChange data showing that the cost of living is now the second most commonly cited reason for debt among new clients, up from the sixth most common in 2021."

Across England and Wales, nearly 64,000 breathing spaces were granted in the year to the end of April – including more than 1,000 for people undergoing a mental health crisis. They included 6,707 across the West Midlands.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “We are proud of the breathing space scheme which has supported over 63,000 people in problem debt – helping to get their finances back under control.

“We understand people are struggling with rising prices which is why we have acted to protect the 8 million most vulnerable British families through at least £1,200 of direct payments this year, with additional support for pensioners and those claiming disability benefits.”

Citizen's Advice, which supports people on a variety of money issues, recommends people check whether their debts are covered by the scheme, and that they talk to one of its advisers to discuss their options.