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The report used information from credit checking company Experian to build a profile of those who have sunk badly into debt.
Families dependent on benefits made up around one fifth (20.2%) of those who are over-indebted, while "worried" working families who find being in debt a constant burden accounted for a similar proportion (19.4%).
Nearly one in 10 (9.8%) of those with bad debts were identified as people who are working for the first time and one in eight (11.3%) are struggling students. Some 1.1% of this group are people eking out an uncomfortable retirement.
Almost three-fifths (58%) of those with severe debts were found to be in employment and nearly half (48%) live in a privately-owned home.
The MAS report, titled Indebted Lives, identified the UK's five most over-indebted areas as: Hull, Nottingham, Manchester, Knowsley and Liverpool. Around two-fifths of adults in all these areas are struggling with debt.
At the other end of the scale, Richmond upon Thames in south London has just 1.2% of its population struggling with debt, according to the report.
- Around one fifth (21%) of those the research classed as over-indebted, equating to 1.8 million people across the UK
- A further 11% were not concerned about being in debt
- One in eight (12%) over-indebted people said they were thinking about trying to get help soon
- Three-quarters (75%) of the estimated 8.8 million people with severe debt problems are under 45 years old and nearly two-thirds (64%) are women
- Some 74% of those with severe debt problems said they are unhappy
- Around four million people are thought to have been struggling to pay their bills for more than a year
- Just under half (48%) of those with severe debt had to forego basic necessities
Nearly nine million people are estimated to be trapped in a spiral of severe debt in the UK, the Government-backed body the Money Advice Service (MAS) has found.
Just one in six getting help to break free.
Around 8.8 million people are "over-indebted", meaning they have fallen at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months or they feel their debts are a heavy burden
But just 17% of this group said they are getting advice to help them deal with their debt, while around two-fifths (40%) said they did not feel able to talk to their creditors and 44% did not know where to turn for help, the research from more than 5,000 people found.