Skip to content

Cost of living crisis deals another blow to struggling small businesses

Money Advice Trust releases new report on the impact of the cost of living crisis on small business

Posted May 31, 2023

  • Nearly six in 10 Business Debtline callers surveyed have gone without essentials like food or clothing due to rising prices
  • More callers falling behind on household bills like energy and council tax
  • Competing personal and business debts add to the challenge

New research from Business Debtline today reveals the impact of the cost of living crisis on struggling small business owners, with a majority of callers to the free debt advice survey going without essentials and worrying about meeting their commitments – and a third turning to credit to help cover essential household bills.

The findings, based on an analysis of service data and a survey of callers to Business Debtline – the UK’s only free, dedicated debt advice service for small business owners – are published today in the Money Advice Trust’s latest spotlight briefing, Shrinking Margins.

Rising prices impact small business owners

The research lays bare the impact the cost of living crisis is having on small business owners seeking debt advice, in the aftermath of the pandemic.

  • Almost all Business Debtline callers surveyed (96 percent) have experienced additional financial pressure due to rising costs
  • Nearly six in 10 callers (57 percent) have gone without essentials like food, toiletries and clothing as a result – with 79 percent worried about meeting essential costs in the future
  • A third of callers surveyed (32 percent) reported turning to credit in the last 12 months to cover essential costs like energy or council tax.

Business and personal debts competing

Many callers to Business Debtline are dealing with competing personal and business costs and the impact of the high cost of living is making it far harder to balance the two. The average amount of business debt owed amongst callers has risen by 43% since 2019 to £37,434.

Almost a third of callers surveyed have fallen into arrears for one or more household bill in the previous 12 months. The three most common bills that callers said they had fallen behind on last year were energy (19 percent, up from 12 percent in 2021), council tax (15 percent, up from eight percent in 2021) and food and groceries (12 percent, up from 7 percent in 2021).

Pressures set to continue

More than half (56 percent) of Business Debtline clients have a ‘deficit budget’, where their income is too low to cover their essential living costs. At the same time, many are still recovering from the impacts of Covid, as the pandemic continues to be one of the most common reasons cited for financial difficulty amongst callers (14 percent). Lack of trade, higher trading costs and debt accrued as a result of the pandemic have, in many cases, all created barriers to recovery.

More than half of callers surveyed (56 percent) are worried about being able to afford their energy bills in the future, with 40 percent worried about affording food.

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

“The high cost of living has dealt yet another blow to the finances of small business owners. And with the impacts felt in both household and business finances, the challenges are even more acute, and for many seem set to continue.

“Of the people we help at Business Debtline, many are still dealing with the financial fall out of Covid-19. The current crisis has compounded these financial pressures further – and so it has never been more important to make sure small business owners access the free advice they need.

“If you are a small business owner and worried about your finances, help is available. Our advisers at Business Debtline provide free, independent advice and will go through your options. It is never too early or late to seek advice, so I would urge anyone who is struggling to get in touch.”

The Money Advice Trust's Shrinking Margins spotlight briefing on the impact of the the cost of living on callers to Business Debtline.

Business Debtline provides free, independent debt advice at:

Back to top