The number of insolvency filings in Canada jumped in September to the highest since the pandemic began, in what may be the first sign of long-anticipated strains in household finances from the crisis.

The Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada reported 7,658 consumer insolvency filings, up 18.5 per cent from August. That’s the biggest monthly increase since 2017, and the most since March when widespread lockdowns were imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.

Despite the one-month increase, insolvencies remain at historically low levels -- which has been the case for most of 2020 as households continue to benefit from government support measures and payment deferrals from creditors. September filings are still down 36 per cent from the same month in 2019.

But the pick-up may suggest that reprieve is waning. There were still 1.3 million Canadian workers in September without jobs or working significantly fewer hours because of the pandemic.

“Consumer insolvency filings are expected to rise through the end of the year as household support measures, such as debt payment deferrals, have started to expire, while employment remains below the pre-pandemic level,” Bank of Nova Scotia economists Nikita Perevalov and Alena Bystrova said in a report to investors.

Filings rose 25 per cent on the month in Quebec, and 15 per cent in Ontario, though they are still significantly below year-earlier levels in both provinces.

Consumers who can no longer manage their debt loads can make an insolvency filing under Canadian law. That can include a bankruptcy or a proposal, a less severe form of insolvency where the debtor agrees to repay a proportion of what’s owed in exchange for being allowed to keep some assets.

Of total consumer filings in September, 2,606 were bankruptcies and 5,052 were proposals.

Total business filings rose 30 per cent in September on the month, but were still down 7.9 per cent from a year earlier.