Personal insolvencies more common among women, and people living by the sea or in the North East – R3 comments on 2018 statistics

More women than men in England and Wales became insolvent in 2018, following a pattern which has been in place for several years, says insolvency trade body R3, commenting on the annual personal insolvency statistics released this morning by the Insolvency Service.

Looking at the geographical spread in the statistics, the North East and coastal towns such as Torbay and Blackpool typically had the highest concentrations of personal insolvencies, also following the pattern established in recent years. Stoke-on-Trent is once again the local authority with the highest rates of personal insolvencies.

The 2018 statistics show that 54.3% of insolvencies involved a woman, up from 30% in 2000 and 53.9% in 2017.


  • There were 26.6 insolvencies per 10,000 women in 2018 compared to 23.3 insolvencies per 10,000 men. There were 25 insolvencies per 10,000 for all adults.
  • Women were involved in 65% of Debt Relief Orders, 54% of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, and 38% of bankruptcies.
  • Women aged between 25-34 were the group with the highest personal insolvency rate in 2018, at 49.9 per 10,000. They were followed by women aged 35-44 (47.5 per 10,000), and men aged 35-44 (40.7 per 10,000).
  • The number of DROs taken out in 2018 rose by around 11% compared with 2017, while the number of bankruptcies rose by 10% year on year. IVAs jumped by 20% year on year, and overall, individual insolvency numbers rose by 16% in 2018 compared with 2017.

Mark Sands, Chair of R3’s Personal Insolvency Committee, comments: “The gender split in insolvency is a sober reminder that women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged than men; they are more likely to work part-time, or in generally lower paid sectors. Women are also more prone to becoming insolvent following the breakdown of a relationship than men, as the Insolvency Service found several years ago when it looked into the reasons why people became bankrupt. Being a single parent also correlates strongly with financial hardship, and women make up the great majority of single parents.

“This April marked the tenth anniversary of the introduction of Debt Relief Orders. Designed to be used by people with lower asset levels, smaller debts, and a low level of disposable income, the DRO has established itself over the past decade as a useful debt forgiveness tool for people who don’t have enough income to agree an Individual Voluntary Arrangement, and for those who can’t afford the £680 to become bankrupt, or whose lower levels of assets would make a bankruptcy less viable.

“The introduction of DROs is a major reason why women reversed the ‘gender gap’ in insolvencies: DROs are more common than bankruptcies – albeit far less well-known – and the gender split of people entering DROs is heavily weighted towards women. This links back to the generally more precarious state of women’s finances, as they are used for smaller debt and asset levels than other personal insolvency procedures.

“Bankruptcy was once again the procedure which was used by more men than women. It’s often linked to the closing or insolvency of a business where directors – who are more likely to be men than women – have given personal guarantees to lenders for business debts, are reliant on their income as a director, or where an individual is a sole trader liable for their business debts.

“The gender split in IVAs is broadly the same as last year. IVAs are typically used to handle consumer debts such as credit card debt, and their take-up is partly driven by marketing, and how aware people are of them as an option.

“There’s no doubt that wider structural inequalities within society have an impact on the gender split within insolvency, but it’s important to remember that, for many people who become insolvent, the process offers the opportunity for a fresh start, financially speaking. Given the many overlapping and interlocking ways that women are generally more disadvantaged from an economic point of view, we are unlikely to see gender balance in personal insolvency rates any time soon.”


Mark Sands comments: “The areas with the highest levels of personal insolvency are largely unchanged from last year. A higher personal insolvency rate is a symptom of wider deprivation, and highlights the need for debt advice services to be targeted and tailored for people living in less affluent areas.

“The historical retreat of the industrial sector caused decades of hardship in many places, as well-paying jobs disappeared which were replaced, at best, by more precarious and worse-paid employment.

“Coastal areas often have higher rates of personal insolvency than inland areas. As places which often depend on an influx of tourists in the summer months for income, they are dependent on the consumer pound, which has been in shorter supply of late. The seasonal nature of tourism-related work makes it hard for many residents to build up savings to last them in leaner times, leaving them vulnerable to the type of economic shock that can often trigger insolvency.

“Although the rate of growth of consumer debt has slowed, the amount owed by individuals is still rising, while inflation-adjusted employees’ earnings are still lower than before the 2008-2009 recession, according to the ONS. Ensuring that people in problem debt are aware of their options, and that they can access a suitable form of personal insolvency if that is the best option for them, should be a priority for the Government.”