The number of Watford residents accessing a debt relief scheme has risen by a tenth in the last year, new figures show.

The Debt Respite or “Breathing Space” Scheme was launched during the pandemic to give people with problem debt legal protections from actions by creditors for up to 60 days.

People can also apply for a mental health breathing space, which lasts the duration of their mental health treatment plus 30 days.

Figures from the Insolvency Service show 140 people in Watford registered for a standard or mental health debt respite in 2023 – up from 128 the year before.

Nationally, 88,390 people were receiving “breathing space” from their debt in 2023, of these, 1,462 were given the support due a mental health crisis last year, up from 1,216 in 2022.

Uptake of the scheme in Watford was lower than the national average at 17.8 per 10,000 adults compared to 18.5 nationwide.

A spokesperson for the town's Citizens Advice Bureau recently told the Watford Observer it had seen how residents were struggling to cover basic household costs and getting into debt to get by.

They added that it had seen a 213 per cent rise in requests for debt advice over the last two years.

“Many people are simply unaware of the help available which they may be eligible for,” they added, calling on councils and voluntary organisations to better signpost the support that is available to residents.

More than 200,000 total breathing spaces have been registered since the inception of the scheme.

They have seen a national drop in the number of people formally going financially insolvent, which includes bankruptcy, debt relief orders and voluntary arrangements.

Some 103,454 personal insolvencies were recorded last year, 130 of which were in Watford.

It represents a 13 per cent fall nationally compared with 2022 with Watford cases down 29 per cent from 184 in 2022.

Simon Trevethick, head of communications at Debt relief charity StepChange, said the rise in people accessing the scheme nationally before going to insolvency was “encouraging”, and that the scheme had achieved good outcomes for people in financial difficulty.

"Our research indicates improved wellbeing for our clients who have entered a breathing space, including sleeping better and worrying less about debts," Simon added.