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‘Back to school’ costs see one in seven families miss essential bills

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak
Posted:
Updated:
29/09/2023

An estimated 2.3 million households missed an essential bill in just a single month, with parents bearing the brunt of ‘back to school’ costs, a consumer champion reveals.

One in seven (15%) households with children were unable to make a housing, utility, loan or credit card payment in the month to 8 September, suggesting families may have struggled with ‘back to school’ costs like uniforms and equipment.

By contrast, 5% of households without children missed an essential bill in the month, according to the Which? survey.

Overall, it revealed 8.2% of all UK households – an estimated 2.3 million – weren’t able to meet an essential bill payment.

In a bid to cope with food inflation and rising rent and mortgage payments, Brits have made adjustments, such as cutting back on essentials, dipping into savings, selling possessions or borrowing.

Which? found that seven in 10 (68%) households with children made at least one adjustment to afford their bills, while for child-free households, the figure stood at 46%.

Overall, an estimated 15.1 million UK households made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending.

While this is the lowest level seen in the last 18 months, Which? said it 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.

And, with winter fast approaching, pressures on household finances are only likely to increase.

‘Worrying’ situation ahead of winter months

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, 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.”

The consumer champion shared the following tips if you’re struggling to pay essential bills:

  1. Start by contacting your bill provider to see if you are missing out on any discounted tariffs or reductions and if it can help you find a payment plan you can afford.
  2. Energy providers should not just disconnect you and can help you find a payment plan you can afford, and may be able to refer you to additional hardship funds.
  3. If you have a traditional prepayment meter and cannot afford to top it up, contact your energy supplier for help to keep your supply going.
  4. If you’re struggling to afford your mortgage, speak to your 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.