The number of people in Hampshire accessing a debt relief scheme opened to provide financial support during the coronavirus pandemic has risen by a fifth last year, new figures show.

Across England and Wales, there was a 25% jump in the number of people registering for "breathing space" from debt last year.

Debt relief charity StepChange said the rise is "encouraging", with the scheme successfully delivering good outcomes for people facing financial difficulty.

A standard breathing space application is available to people with problem debt and gives legal protections from creditor action for up to 60 days. They can be entered into once a year.

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 1,614 people in Hampshire registered for a standard or mental health breathing space in 2023 – up from 1,331 the year before.

It meant the breathing space rate was 14.2 per 10,000 adults in the area.

Nationally, there were 88,390 registered breathing spaces in 2023, equivalent to a rate of 18.5 per 10,000 adults.

Of these, 1,462 registered for a mental health breathing space last year – up from 1,216 in 2022.

Simon Trevethick, head of communications at StepChange, said: "It's encouraging to see more people taking advantage of Breathing Space before accessing insolvency.

"Since its inception, the scheme has been successful in delivering good outcomes for people facing financial difficulty. It can reduce the pressure of a stressful situation when someone is dealing with multiple debts, and give them the space to fully engage with debt advice to regain control of their finances and get back on track.

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

Breathing spaces were introduced in May 2021 to help people facing financial difficulties because of the coronavirus pandemic. 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, a 13% fall compared with 2022.

Of these, 2,180 were in Hampshire – down from 2,734 in 2022.

A Treasury spokesperson said: "The Government remains committed to supporting people in problem debt and continues to fund debt advice at record levels in England.

"At the Spring Budget, we made it easier for people to access vital debt relief by scrapping the £90 admin fee for a Debt Relief Order and changing the criteria so more people can get the help they need to get their finances back on track."