It’s not difficult to have noticed the huge rise in debt- or poverty-based TV programmes recently, especially on Channel Five.
One example, the show Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away, follows High Court enforcement agents as they attempt to reclaim debts from people and businesses. They usually accept payment, or seize goods to cover the debt. Another, On Benefits, focuses on people who rely on state support to get by, while Rich House, Poor House sees rich and poor people swap lives for a week – giving the poor family a taste of the high life before lunging them back into poverty at the end of the week.
These shows are pitched as entertainment, but are they really entertaining, or do they simply profit from people’s financial misery?
Sometimes the debtors featured on Can’t Pay… are clearly crooks – trying to get away with not paying what they are supposed to. However, more often than not, they are genuine, honest people who have got into debt way over their heads and have failed to deal with it. It’s hard not to deeply sympathise with people who have simply lost their way and who have not known where to turn.
It could be argued that the show has some merit in making the idea of debt less of a taboo subject. While we don’t deal with debt specifically, we frequently speak to people in our free DMA Law Link office, on Skinnergate in Darlington, who are struggling with debt and who need help. We would always encourage people to face up to their problems and seek help, either from the Debt Advisory Service or Citizens Advice.
While it’s hard to endorse these TV programmes, if anything good comes out of them, it’s that we hope it will encourage people to talk about their debt and to deal with their problems before they reach the stage of High Court enforcement. Debt is a gigantic problem in the UK, affecting people and businesses alike, and out-of-control debt is not a problem anybody should have to live with.
It is important to speak to a neutral, not-for-profit organisation, There are plenty of charities out there that deal with debt. Make these your first port of call. Examples include Stepchange, National Debtline, or the Debt Advice Foundation.