North East England has retained its unwanted place at the top of the table for personal insolvency in England and Wales for the twelfth successive year.

According to the latest annual figures released by the Insolvency Service, there were 34.6 individual insolvencies per 10,000 people in the region in 2019, compared to a rate for England and Wales of just 26.1.

The new regional figure represents an increase on the 2018 rate, which stood at 33.2 individual insolvencies per 10,000 people, and  27.2 individual insolvencies per 10,000 people in 2017.

And with the significant impact of the pandemic on the region’s personal finances not yet factored into the Insolvency Service figures, Alexandra Withers, North East chair of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3, is advising local people who think their finances could be in at risk of getting out of hand to seek qualified advice as soon as possible.

County Durham was the local authority area with the North East’s highest personal insolvency rate in 2019 (39.7 per 10,000 people), followed by Darlington (39.3 per 10,000 people), South Tyneside (38.5), Hartlepool (38) and Stockton-on-Tees (37.7).

The Northumberland County Council area recorded the region’s lowest rate of personal insolvency in 2019 (27.2 per 10,000 people), just ahead of Newcastle upon Tyne (28.3) and Redcar & Cleveland (31.1).

Alexandra Withers, who is also an associate solicitor in the insolvency department of Short Richardson & Forth Solicitors in Newcastle, says: “The North East’s enduringly high levels of personal debt and the rise in the regional rate of personal insolvency would be enough to worry about in themselves, even without knowing that the full impact of everything that happened in 2020 is still ahead of us.

“As in previous years, the places which have the highest rates of personal insolvency tend to be seaside towns, or areas affected by the decline of a particular industry – and in the North East, there is often an especially-challenging combination of both these factors.

“Company closures, rising unemployment levels and the eventual end of the temporary personal and business debt protections that were introduced in recent months to lessen the immediate impact of the pandemic could all contribute to what’s expected to be a significant rise in the number of personal insolvencies in 2021.

“Money problems could hit anyone at any time for any of these reasons and more, but there is perhaps the widest ever range of options available today to help people find solutions to their particular issues – and the sooner they do so, the more likely it is that they will find a way forward.

“Choosing to access qualified advice at the earliest possible opportunity can make a big different to someone’s chances of getting things back under control, and choosing to do so, rather than hoping your debt problems will just go away, is more important now than ever.”