The number of people struggling to cope with payday loan debts has risen by more than 13,000 in the past year, new figures show.

Debt charity StepChange says it dealt with 43,716 people in the first six months of this year, compared with 30,762 for the same period last year (see's Debt Help and Cheap Personal Loans for alternatives).

The figures show the charity handled more than £72 million in debts in the first half of 2014 – an average of £1,652 per person – which it says highlights the need for better protection for vulnerable people who may consider taking out a loan

In contrast, from January to June last year, this figure stood at £51 million, though the average total payday debt per person was slightly higher at £1,665.

Price cap for high-cost short-term credit

In July, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced proposals to introduce a cap on the fees and interest charged by payday lending firms in a bid to protect borrowers from escalating debts.

The proposals, which include capping default fees at £15 and a total cost cap of 100% of the value of the loan, should mean those who cannot repay on time will never have to pay back more in charges than the amount borrowed.

The latest clampdown on the industry by the FCA is due to come into force in January, subject to a consultation period. said in response to the proposals that capping the cost of payday loans is a sensible move, but we would like to see the overall cost cap nearer to 50% of the loan's value.

'Unsustainable borrowing'

StepChange's chief executive Mike O'Connor says: "Today's figures show that the payday market all too often fails to treat customers fairly, especially those in financial difficulty.

"High-cost short-term credit is rarely the answer to financial difficulties. While the FCA's proposed price cap is a crucial step forward, there is still much work to be done to ensure that payday loans can no longer plunge people into a cycle of unsustainable borrowing and entrenched financial hardship."

Additional reporting by Paloma Kubiak