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.
Millions of British families don't have enough savings to cover one month's rent or mortgageRead the full story ›
- Personal debt in the UK stands at £1.4 tn with an average household owing £54,000, compared with £29,000 a decade ago
- Unsecured consumer debt has almost tripled since 1993, reaching nearly £160bn
- Poorest 10% of household in the country have average debts more than 4x their annual income
- More than 8 million households now have no savings at all
- 26,000 UK households have been accepted by councils as homeless in the last five years because of rent and mortgage arrears, with 5,036 becoming homeless last year
- Payday lenders have increased business from £900 million in 2008/09 to just over £2 billion in 2011/12.
Years of increased borrowing, rising living costs and struggling to save has forced many families into a debt trap that is proving very difficult to escape.
Problem debt can have a corrosive impact on people and families. Our report shows how it can wreak havoc on mental health, relationships and wellbeing.
Across the UK people are up until the early hours worrying about their finances and bills.
Some of the poorest people in Britain are cut off from mainstream banking and have no choice now but to turn to loan sharks and high-cost lenders.
Household debt has almost doubled in the last decade as more families struggle to pay their rent or mortgage, the Centre for Social Justice has warned.
The think tank - founded by the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - said British households now owe an average of £54,000, an increase from £29,000 a decade ago.
The study also found households in the poorest 10% of the country have average debts more than four times their annual income, with their average debt repayments amounting to nearly half their gross monthly income.
Personal debt in Britain has reached £1.4 trillion, according to a report by an influential think tank.
According to a study by the Centre for Social Justice, around 3.9 million British families do not have enough savings to cover their rent or mortgage for more than a month.
More than 26,000 UK households were accepted by councils as homeless in the last five years because of rent and mortgage arrears, including more than 5,000 last year, the think-tank said.
Its report, Maxed Out, said poor people were bearing the brunt of a "perfect storm" of rising living costs, falling real wages, low savings and expensive credit that has seen unsecured consumer debt almost triple in the last 20 years, reaching nearly £160 billion.
Public sector net borrowing fell to £15.1 billion in March, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
This was down £1.6 billion from March 2012 when net borrowing stood at £16.7 billion.