One in five (17%) adults in Scotland would find it somewhat difficult, very difficult or impossible to immediately pay an unexpected bill for £20, without assistance from an external source, according to new research from R3, the insolvency trade body, and ComRes.

In the survey, 4% of adults in Scotland said they would find it ‘very difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to immediately pay an unexpected £20 bill without assistance from an external source, while a further 13% said that doing so would be ‘somewhat difficult’.

R3’s research asked adults in Scotland how difficult they would find it to immediately pay unexpected bills without assistance from an external source for other amounts, too:

  • Three in ten (27%) adults in Scotland said they would find it at least somewhat difficult to pay an unexpected £50 bill, below the 34% in Britain.
  • Two-fifths (40%) of adults in Scotland said the same about an unexpected bill for £100 (47% in Britain).
  • Over half (56%) of adults in Scotland said the same about a £250 bill (60% in Britain).
  • Two thirds (67%) of adults in Scotland said this would be the case for a £500 bill (67% in Britain).

In Scotland, under half (44%) of adults would find it very difficult or impossible to immediately pay an unexpected £500 bill, lower than the Britain-wide figure of 52%.

The research highlights the lack of financial resilience among adults in Scotland as well as across Britain as a whole, and demonstrates the toll taken by years of non-existent real wage growth on levels of savings.

Tim Cooper, chair of R3 in Scotland and a partner at Addleshaw Goddard, said “The research results are alarming, as they suggest household budgets are operating on very tight margins.’

“Lots of people are one unexpected bill away from losing financial stability. A missed payment for a relatively small amount can be the trigger for an escalation in debt that soon becomes impossible to juggle.”

“Unexpected bills for these amounts aren’t uncommon: £20 for a school uniform, £50 for a train ticket to visit a sick relative, £100 for a new washing machine motor, £250 for car servicing or repair, or £500 for a boiler repair or replacement.”

The Government has announced some steps to support those in financial trouble, including the introduction of the ‘Help to Save’ scheme.

Cooper added “Help to Save is a potentially useful tool. The ONS says that, in 2017, UK households spent £900 more than they received in income, so alarm bells should be ringing at the highest levels about financial vulnerability to external shocks.”