Bills pile up for struggling households

2nd October 2023

Household debts continue to mount up from every direction, with concerns that the reportable figures may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Nationally, bill debt for the UK’s households has reached £22 billion, although due to limited data availability on key figures such as water bills and rent arrears, this total is only an estimate. The most accurate total is therefore broadly expected to be much higher, with 1 in 4 (27%) people stating they are behind on at least one bill. Looking overall, the average total debt per UK household, including mortgages, stands at £65,661 and per adult at £34,666, the equivalent of around 100.3% of average earnings.

Debts feature heavily in reported support line figures with a total of 46,431 people with energy debts contacting Citizens Advice in the first six months of 2023, a 17% increase on the same period last year. Those contacting them for advice and help in this area were reported to have average debts of £1,711.

In the first quarter of 2023, UK households spent £115.98 million a day on water, electricity and gas, or £4.13 per household per day. On a seasonally adjusted basis, this was 0.4% more than the revised figure for Q1 in 2022. With the prices of electricity and gas having risen significantly in this period, this increase would seem unexpectedly small. In March 2023, the inflation rate for housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels was 26.1%, dwarfing a 0.4% increase in daily spend, but arguably the likeliest factor here will be people heavily cutting back on their energy usage and pulling back the relative rise overall in proportion.

Not unexpectedly however, comes the impact these rising costs are having on Financial Resilience, which is a person’s ability to cope with an unexpected financial shock. Recent reports have found that 17% of UK adults have £0 or less (meaning they are using an overdraft) in their current account the day before payday. But by the end of August 2023, the inflation rate for housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels had reduced to 7%, with prices still increasing but less sharply. A reduction in the amount people pay towards their energy bills will hopefully increase what is left over at the end of each month, in turn improving levels of Financial Resilience.

The last few months and even years have been incredibly hard on the budgets of countless UK households, so it is hardly surprising to see the evidence of bill debt mounting up, with those figures not even including some of the most common bills and debts. With prices increasing everywhere and pay rates struggling, so many people of all ages are struggling to cover the costs of just their essentials, let alone anything additional. It’s a difficult scene to face up to and a major challenge in our mission to see the UK increase its Financial Wellbeing.

For that vision to continue to move forward in the big picture, we believe we need to see more; more healthy and sustained growth in the economy, more effective and targeted assistance to those who most need it, as well as more improvements in the financial landscape, focused on improving outcomes for and treatment of UK consumers. But individuals and groups can effect their own change too, whether it’s trying to budget for the first time, starting a savings habit, or just booking one of our Financial Education or Financial Wellbeing Workshops and Webinars for a school, college, workplace or community group. Every step taken truly does make a difference.

Michelle Highman, Chief Executive at The Money Charity