More people are missing payments for essential bills, including for energy, water or council tax in the run-up to Christmas, according to a consumer group, as the cost of living crisis continues to hurt household finances.
Which?’s latest Consumer Insight Tracker found that one in 10 households (9.8%) said they had missed or defaulted on a loan, credit card, housing or household bill payment in the month to November 10. This equates to 2.8 million households and is the highest level recorded since April 2020.
Almost one in 10 (8.8%) renters saying they missed a payment. 5.6 per cent missed a household bill – such as water or energy bill – 5.3 per cent missed a loan or credit card payment and 2.9 per cent of mortgage holders missed a mortgage payment.
Many households also reported having to make financial adjustments to stay afloat. Almost six in 10 (57%) said they had made at least one adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials, dipping into savings, selling possessions or borrowing – to cover essential spending in the month to 10 November.
Consumer concern about price rises remained high, with nearly nine in 10 (85%) worried about energy prices and around eight in 10 anxious about food prices (83%) and fuel prices (79%).
Worryingly, one in six (16%) have skipped meals due to high food costs, one in 10 (8%) have prioritised meals for other family members and a quarter (24%) have gone without some foods.
These concerning figures show that despite the fall in the UK inflation rate in October, a large number of households are seriously struggling to pay their bills and afford everyday essentials – possibly for the first time for many.
Consumer confidence in their current household financial situation and the outlook for the UK economy also fell for the second month in a row. More than half (53%) said they think the UK economy will get worse over the next year, while one in six (16%) of consumers think it will improve – giving a net confidence in the future economy of -37. This is a 10 point drop compared to two months ago.
Consumers’ views on their own household finances also fell slightly this month to +14, down from +21 two months ago. These figures have been in a fairly steady decline in confidence since the cost of living crisis began.
With the lead up to Christmas fast approaching, these figures paint a bleak picture. At such a difficult financial time, businesses must do everything in their power to ease pressures on household budgets. Which? is calling on essential businesses – energy firms, telecoms providers and supermarkets – to do more to help their customers and ensure they are providing value for money.
For example, supermarkets need to make sure affordable, healthy food options – like their budget ranges – are widely available including in their convenience stores. Energy firms need to ensure their customer service departments are fully staffed and able to support any customers who are struggling to make ends meet and telecoms firms need to properly advertise their social tariffs to eligible customers.
If people are missing or struggling to afford essential payments – such as energy, credit card or mortgage payments – then they should speak to their provider immediately for help.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said: “It’s hugely worrying that one in 10 households missed essential payments in a single month.
“With Christmas and colder weather fast approaching, these pressures on household finances are only likely to worsen in the months to come.
“Which? is calling on businesses in essential sectors like food, energy and telecoms providers to do everything possible to help customers get a good deal and avoid unnecessary or unfair costs and charges this winter.”
Which? cost of living campaign
The consumer champion is running a campaign calling on businesses in essential sectors – supermarkets, telecoms and energy – to do more to help their customers through the cost of living crisis. More information on the campaign is available here.