The number of individuals becoming insolvent jumped to 7,442 in England and Wales in the third quarter of the year, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.

It represents an 18.3% increase on the same period last year, and a 3.2% rise on figures for the second quarter.

Company insolvencies also rose by 4.1% on the 1998 figure to 3,481.

But this represents a five per cent decrease compared to the number in the second quarter of 1999.

A DTI spokesman attributed the figures to an increase in the number of companies started rather than any downturn in the economy.