2.5 million households missed payments in January as cost of living crisis bites, Which? research suggests

Around 2.5 million UK households missed payments in January, new Which? research suggests, as the consumer champion calls for businesses and government to do more to support those in financial distress. 

According to the latest findings from Which?’s consumer insight tracker, an estimated 2.5 million households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or bill in January 2022. This marks a significant increase on December 2021, when 1.7 million households were estimated to have defaulted on or missed a payment.

Missed payment rates were even higher among those on lower incomes. One in seven (14%) households in the sample with an income under £21,000 missed a payment in the last month. There were 210 people in the sample receiving universal credit and of these 28 per cent had missed a payment.

While the cost of living has been on the rise for months, this is the first time Which? has seen the current crisis affecting household finances in its consumer insight tracker – with clear signs that many people are having to adjust their household spending to stay afloat.

The majority of those surveyed (58%) said they had recently been affected by increased food prices, and over half (56%) had been affected by energy price rises. Just under a fifth (17%) reported a recent increase in their housing costs, and the same proportion reported an increase in the price they pay for broadband and mobile services.

Half (51%) of consumers said they had been putting the heating on less frequently due to energy price rises, and nearly as many (46%) had reduced their usage of lights or appliances around the home. Only a quarter reported not having taken any such measure in response to energy costs increasing.

Many people also said they have bought cheaper products, shopped around in different stores or bought extra items when on promotion. Some reported having to take more drastic measures. Of those who had experienced higher food prices, one in 10 (10%) of them said they had skipped meals, 9 per cent prioritised meals for other family members, and three per cent said they had used a food bank.

One respondent to Which?’s consumer insight tracker survey said: “Everything has gone up in price. Food, petrol and gas and electric have gone up so much but my wages haven’t. Last week was the first time I’ve ever had to use a food bank…how is it that I work but had to use a food bank? I’m scared to put the heating on as last month’s bill was double the amount [compared to a year ago].”

Another said: “Everything is going up. The energy prices will rise 50 per cent and that will mean I cannot put the heating on. Food prices rising means that I will have to eat less, miss meals or buy cheaper food.”

Prices are expected to rise further in the coming months, with the Bank of England predicting inflation will remain around 5 per cent before peaking at about 6 per cent in April 2022.

Those on the lowest incomes, single parents and retirees will be worst impacted. It is predicted that for those in the lowest 20 per cent of incomes – households with an average income of £14,600 per year – 30 per cent of their spending will be on just food, gas and electricity by April 2022. By comparison, for the 20 per cent with the highest incomes – an average of £81,000 per year – it is estimated that just 16 per cent of their spending will be on these essentials.

Single people with children are predicted to pay £924 more a year on food, gas and electricity in April 2022 than they were pre-pandemic in March 2020, while retirees face paying £930 more a year.

Which? is calling on the government, regulators and companies to work quickly to make sure they are ready to support customers in financial distress. The government must urgently clarify what support will be put in place for those struggling to pay rising energy bills. With the new price cap due to be announced on 7th February, it is not fair to leave millions of people hanging on for help until the Spring Statement in March.

The government also must ensure people can rely on robust consumer protections that will prevent them from being exploited, and regulators must intervene when businesses treat customers unfairly.

In the longer term, the government should take a more fundamental look at the underlying factors that are driving price rises across different sectors. They must work with regulators to build greater resilience more generally, including through much-needed reforms to the consumer and competition regimes.

Which? will continue to offer consumers practical advice on how to save money on their household bills. Next week, the consumer champion will start a new cost of living focus on the Which? Money podcast.

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said: 

“Our research shows millions of households have missed or defaulted on payments this month alone. This is hugely concerning as it suggests the cost of living crisis is already starting to hit hard – especially for those on lower incomes.

“The government and businesses must urgently put measures in place to support those struggling to make ends meet. People should not be saddled with spiralling debts because of circumstances completely outside their control.”


Notes to editors 

Consumer insight tracker 

The consumer insight tracker is an online poll conducted monthly by Yonder on behalf of Which?. It is weighted to be nationally representative with approximately 2,000 respondents per wave. Within this, the sample of low income households (defined as those earning less than £21,000) and those receiving universal credit is not nationally representative.

The survey indicates that between 7.9 per cent and 10.4 per cent of households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or bill repayment in January, with an average estimate of 9.1 per cent.

Based on our survey and the ONS estimate for the number of households in 2020 of 27.8m, we estimate that between 1,407,880 and 1,978,070 households missed or defaulted on a housing, utility, loan or credit card bill in December 2021, rising to between 2,190,910 and 2,879,640 in January 2022.

Predictions on how people will be affected by the cost of living crisis

To estimate the impact of price rises on household spending, the ONS’s Living Cost and Food Survey (LCFS) data is used to calculate the proportion spent on different expenditure categories (e.g. education) by demographic groups and detailed price indices from the ONS are used to calculate the price increases for specific goods and services. For each demographic group, Which? generates demographic specific price indices by reweighting the price increases to account for differences in the proportion spent on expenditure categories. Council tax is not included.

To generate forecasts for inflation up to April 2022, Which? uses inflation predictions for energy from Cornwall Insight, and for food from Capital Economics. For all other expenditure categories Which? carries forward the latest level of inflation, December 2021.

Income quintiles are calculated by ranking the households in the LCFS sample by their equivalised household income and taking five equal proportions. The average for each income quintile is the median household income and allowances for households in the LCFS sample. The figures included in the article are from the latest LCFS wave (2019/2020).

Proportion of expenditure spent on food, electricity and gas by household income


Income quintile






Mar 2020






Sep 2021






Apr 2022






*  September 2021 and April 2022 are predicted expenditure proportions

Predicted change in expenditure on food, electricity and gas between March 2020 and April 2022 by household composition

Estimated increase in expenditure per…


Single w/ children


Couple w/ children

3 Adults or more
















Which?’s content on the rising cost of living crisis and how consumers can save money can be found here: https://www.which.co.uk/news/cost-of-living/

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at endorsementscheme@which.co.uk.

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