One in seven households with children missed an essential payment in a month as many may have struggled to cover back to school costs, new research from Which? has found.
Which?’s latest Consumer Insight Tracker found one in seven (15%) families surveyed missed an essential payment – such as a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment – in the month to 8th September. This comes at a time when parents may have struggled to foot the bill for uniforms, stationery and other school essentials.
This compares to just five per cent of those with no children.
Overall, 8.2 per cent of all UK households – an estimated 2.3 million – missed a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment. This is in line with the high missed payment rates of the last few months.
Families were also much more likely than other groups to report making at least one adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials, dipping into savings, selling possessions or borrowing – to cover essential spending such as utility bills, housing costs, groceries, school supplies and medicines in the last month.
A staggering 7 in 10 (68%) households with children surveyed reported at least one adjustment in the month to September 8th. This is significantly higher than the half (46%) of households without children.
Overall, an estimated 15.1 million UK households made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending. This is the lowest level seen in the last 18 months but is still significantly higher than the number of households making adjustments in 2020 and 2021 – before the full impact of the cost of living crisis hit household finances.
These figures suggest that while some households might be seeing improvements to their household financial situation, many remain at serious risk of financial hardship. This is especially true for households with children, who may have struggled to cover the additional cost of back to school supplies.
With winter fast approaching, pressures on household finances are only likely to increase. 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, broadband providers and supermarkets – to do more to help their customers and ensure they are providing value for money.
For example, supermarkets need to make budget range items widely available – particularly in 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 really worrying that one in seven households with children missed a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment in a single month.
“With winter and higher heating bills fast approaching, these pressures on household finances are only set to increase. We’d encourage anyone who’s struggling to seek free debt advice and reach out to their bill provider for help.
“As so many people face financial hardship, Which? is calling on businesses in essential sectors – like food, energy and telecoms – to do more to help their customers make ends meet during this crisis.”
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 essential bills
Start by contacting your bill provider to see if you are missing out on any discounted tariffs or reductions and if they can help you find a payment plan you can afford. More information here.
Energy providers should not just disconnect people and can help customers find a payment plan they can afford, and may be able to refer you to additional hardship funds. If people have a traditional prepayment meter and cannot afford to top it up, they should contact their energy supplier for help to keep their supply going. They may be able to access emergency credit – though you will eventually need to repay this through a payment plan. More information here.
If households are struggling to afford their mortgage, they should speak to their lender as soon as possible. Speaking to your lender will not affect your credit rating. 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.
Cheapest school uniforms
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.
Which? estimates that between 7 per cent and 9.4 per cent of households missed or defaulted on a housing, bill or credit payment in the last month to September 8th, with an average estimate of 8.2 per cent. Based on the survey and the ONS estimate for the number of households in 2022 of 28.2 million, this scales up to between 2 million and 2.7 million households missing a bill payment in the last month, with an average estimate of 2.3 million.
The survey indicates that between 51 per cent and 56 per cent of households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month to September 8th, with an average estimate of 53 per cent. Based on the survey and the ONS estimate for the number of households in 2020 of 28.1 million, Which? estimates that between 14.5 million and 15.7 million households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month, with an average estimate of 15.1 million.
Figure 1: One in seven households with children report missing at least one payment in the past month
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll conducted from 8th-10th September 2023 with 2,070 consumers. The sample is weighted to be nationally representative. Base sizes for household types are as follows: households with children (645), households without children (1,425)
Figure 2: 8.2% of households said they had missed a payment in the month to September 8th
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. The chart shows the proportion of households who have missed a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment in the last month.
Figure 3: Almost 7 in 10 households with children made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll conducted from 8th-10th September 2023 with 2,070 consumers. The sample is weighted to be nationally representative. Base sizes for household types are as follows: households with children (645), households without children (1,425
Figure 4: Over half of households made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month
Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. Adjustments include: cutting back, dipping into savings, borrowing from friends and family, taking out credit cards or loans, selling items, using an overdraft.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.