Nearly 2m UK households behind on bill payments as Christmas approaches | UK cost of living crisis

As the cost of living crisis continues to ravage people’s incomes, it has emerged that almost 2m households have defaulted on at least one significant bill in the run-up to Christmas.

According to the latest findings from Which?’s consumer insight tracker, an estimated 1.9m households failed to make at least one mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or other bill payment over the last month.

Missed payment rates generally tend to be lower in the lead-up to the festive period and peak in January, when many households need to pay back their Christmas expenses.

Which? data will make for concerning reading in finance and energy company boardrooms, as it suggests there could be a significant wave of payment defaults in the coming months.

This time last year Which? reported that 1.7m households had missed at least one payment on a significant bill, a number that shot up to 2.5m in January 2022.

With the UK heading into recession, mortgages and rent costs rising and the energy price becoming less generous from April, consumers will only face further financial pressures in 2023 leading to more defaults, it warned.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the most common type of bill missed was energy, at 2.3% of households, followed by council tax at 1.9%.

Overall, renters were more likely to have missed a housing payment. Of those surveyed, 3.1% reported having missed a loan or credit card payment.

Rocio Concha, the Which? director of policy, said: “We’re worried that many more people could be facing financial crisis in January – as the credit repayments pile up and the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

As so many people face financial hardship, Which? is calling on businesses in essential sectors like food, energy and broadband providers to do more to help customers get a good deal and avoid unnecessary or unfair costs and charges during this crisis.”

Last week the Bank of England warned about “significant pressure” on households and businesses due to higher inflation and borrowing costs. About 4m households are likely to face higher mortgage payments in 2023, with the average monthly mortgage payment rising to £1,000 (up from £750), the equivalent to about 17% of pre-tax income.

Earlier this month the Trades Union Congress said 2022 has seen the sharpest fall in real wages since 1977 and the second on record since 1945. Analysis of official statistics found that real wages fell by an average of £76 worst a month in 2022 as a result of paying not keeping pace with inflation.

A year ago the average household was spending around £1,200 on electricity and gas bills; now that figure is £2,500. UK food price inflation hit a new high of 12.4% in November.

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