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10 million now behind on bills, as households face impossible choices

Money Advice Trust releases new findings on the impact of the rising cost of living

Posted September 21, 2022

  • 1 in 5 UK adults (an estimated 10.9m) behind on one or more household bill
  • 10.7 million people have already seen energy bills rise £100 a month or more
  • 1 in 9 (5.6m) have gone without food as a result of the cost of living crisis

One fifth of UK adults are already behind on one or more household bill, and one in nine have gone without food as a result of rising costs, according to new research from the Money Advice Trust. The findings show the significant impact rising bills are already having on peoples' day-to-day-lives.

While the government’s Energy Price Guarantee removes the risk of energy bills climbing even further, the charity, which runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, is warning that the sustained impact of high prices has already taken a heavy toll on millions of households

Based on an Opinium survey of 2,000 UK adults, and a comparison of data from polling carried out in March 2022, the charity’s ‘Impossible Choices' report highlights the increasing difficulty households are facing.

Going without

Many households have little or no wiggle room left in their budgets to cope with rising prices:

  • Two in five UK adults (41 percent) said they had already cut down on all non-essential spending – up seven percentage points since March 2022.
  • Two in five (38 percent) have stopped or reduced their car usage due to rising fuel costs.
  • An estimated 7.7 million (14 percent) said they had sold personal or household items to cover bills.

For some, however, the choices are even more stark with 5.6 million (11 percent) saying they have gone without food as a result of rising costs. This includes skipping meals, only eating once a day, or not eating at all on some days.

Challenges keeping the lights on

The research confirms that high energy price rises have already become unaffordable for millions of people, even before the Government’s cap, which will only prevent future increases.

  • An estimated 10.7 million (20 percent) said they had seen their energy bill rise by £100 or more a month since April.
  • One in nine (11 percent) said they were already in energy arrears.
  • 11 percent said that their energy supplier had already increased their monthly payments to a level they could not afford.

Impact not felt equally

The findings also reveal how the impact of rising costs is not being felt equally.

  • While one in five adults (21 percent) are behind on bills, this rises to 45 percent for people receiving a means-tested benefit.
  • 39 percent of people from an ethnic minority background were behind on one or more bill, compared to 18 percent of people from a white background.
  • Women are more likely to be worrying about money, with 34 percent saying the are doing so every day, compared to 23 percent of men.

A growing burden of debt

With many incomes unable to keep pace with soaring costs, affording bills has become harder, with more people now turning to borrowing to try and make ends meet.

  • 15.3 million people (29 percent) say they have had to use credit to pay for essentials – an increase of 2.1 million since March 2022.
  • 5.6 million (10 percent) have had to borrow money from family or friends.
  • Five percent of UK adults said they are currently behind on their mortgage repayment – an increase of 2 percentage points from March this year.

More support needed for the hardest hit

In advance of this week's mini-budget, the Money Advice Trust is calling on government and regulators to:

  • Ensure the benefits system provides enough support for people on low incomes, including significantly uprating benefit levels.
  • Provide more support for people already in arrears, including pausing debt collection activity and setting repayments to zero or a token amount.
  • Urgently introduce a social tariff to lower the cost of energy bills for low-income households.

Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said:

"The government's capping of energy bills provides relief from the fear of future increases, but for millions the damage has already been done. Many households are already facing impossible choices, such as which meal to skip just to keep the lights on.

"With the impact of this crisis not being felt equally, further targeted support is needed for those on the lowest incomes. This should include uprating benefits to help incomes keep pace with rising costs – and doing more to protect people in arrears to prevent them being pushed further into hardship.

"Like all debt charities we are continuing to do all we can to help people in financial difficulty during this crisis – and I would encourage anyone worried about their finances to contact National Debtline or Business Debtline."

National Debtline provides free, independent debt advice at

Business Debtline provides, free independent advice for self-employed people and small business owners at

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