An estimated seven million UK households are struggling to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments, Which? warns, with millions more at risk of tipping into financial difficulty by the end of 2024 as they remortgage at higher rates.
A Which? survey of 4,000 people found nearly half of households (46%) with mortgages or who are renting have been struggling to keep up with their housing payments – which equates to an estimated seven million households across the UK.
According to Bank of England data, nearly half of all mortgage holders – around 4.5 million households – have already experienced increases to their monthly payments.
Despite the Bank of England maintaining interest rates last week, this pain is still to come for just under a third of homeowners – 2.1 million households – whose fixed-rate deals will finish by the end of 2024. This means millions more households could find themselves struggling to afford their bills.
One man from Northern England on an income of £55,000 – £79,999 said he is “immensely worried about how we can afford to cover bills. Our mortgage is due to renew later in [the] year and sounds like there will be further increase in interest rates”. This suggests that it is not just those on the lowest incomes who are being affected by the interest rate rises.
Renters are also likely to be affected by interest rate rises – as landlords whose mortgage repayments have gone up may raise rents to cover the increase. Many respondents expressed worry about these increases, with one woman from South England on an income of £10,000 – £14,999 saying: “I worry about the roof over my head and the fact my rent is about to increase because I cannot afford to pay the increase”
With pressures continuing to build on household finances, many have had to make financial adjustments to make ends meet. Nearly a third (31%) of mortgage holders have dipped into savings to pay their housing bills – the highest rate amongst all housing tenures.
Around a quarter or more of private (27%) and social renters (25%) have had to use their savings to cover rent. For all these households, dipping into savings means having lesser funds for emergencies and not being able to take full advantage of higher saving rates.
Nearly half of mortgage holders said they are monitoring their finances and budget more (45%) and one in five (21%) are working more hours to afford their housing bills. One woman from the Midlands on an income of £20,000 – £34,999 said: “All bills have gone up including mortgage (about £140 a month in the last year). My wages have not gone up so I am now having to work overtime to just get by.”
These housing worries are also affecting people’s emotional wellbeing. Half (52%) of households with a mortgage and more than half (55%) of social renters and private renters (56%) are feeling stressed on a daily basis compared to just three in 10 (28%) of households who own their homes outright.
Nearly two-thirds of mortgage-holders and renters (62% of households with a mortgage, 60% of social renters and 62% of private renters) are worried about their household’s financial security. Over half said they feel like they are not in control of their money (55% of households with a mortgage, 55% of social renters and 56% of private renters).
With many struggling to make ends meet or set to remortgage in the coming months, the consumer champion is calling on banks and mortgage lenders to ensure they are ready to properly support high numbers of customers getting in touch. This includes making sure that customer service support – via phone calls, email and chat support – is properly staffed and resourced in the months to come.
Those concerned about their ability to make mortgage repayments should contact their lender in the first instance. This will not affect their credit score and lenders can offer a range of support options depending on individual circumstances – such as a temporary mortgage holiday or extending the term of your mortgage.
Renters should speak to their landlords about their situation and ask if they are able to offer temporary help.
The Financial Conduct Authority’s new Consumer Duty, which holds firms in financial services to higher standards of customer service, should mean that customers are supported throughout in a way that meets their financial needs. Companies that fail to do so should expect to face tough action from the regulator.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“It’s hugely concerning that seven million households are already struggling to keep up with rent or mortgage payments – with millions more set to remortgage at higher rates by the end of 2024.
“We’d encourage anyone who’s struggling to seek free debt advice and reach out to their mortgage provider or landlord for help.
“Banks and mortgage lenders must also ensure they are fully staffed and properly prepared to properly support customers getting in touch to remortgage or because they are struggling to make ends meet.”
Notes to editors
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.
Which? advice if you’re struggling to pay your bills
If households are struggling to afford their mortgage, they should speak to their lender as soon as possible. Lenders should be understanding if income levels have changed – for example, because someone has lost their job – and may offer a payment holiday, extending the term to lower the monthly payment or a temporary switch to interest-only repayments. Renters should speak to their landlords about their situation and ask if they are able to offer temporary help. More information here and here.
Basis on behalf of Which? surveyed 4,000 nationally representative consumers within the UK in March 2023 to understand the impacts of the cost of living crisis, and how it has influenced consumer behaviour.
The research article will be available here.
Figure 1: Households with rent or mortgage payments have felt more emotional distress than households who own their home outright
Figure 2: Mortgage holders and renters are very concerned about their financial future
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