Money Wellness
Image of woman with her head in her hands looks at bills in front of her
category iconbills
category iconcost of living
category icondebts
calendar icon18 Jul 2023

1.3m households missed a bill payment in a single month

1.3 million households either missed or defaulted on an essential bill in a single month as cost-of-living pressures start to mount, according to a survey by Which?

Which? found 60% of those who could not afford a household bill such as energy, water or council tax, defaulted on more than one payment in the month to 9 June.

Among those who missed one bill or more:

  • two in five (42%) did not pay their energy bill
  • four in ten (40%) missed their council tax payment
  • nearly four in 10 could not afford their water bill (38%)
  • and a third (32%) struggled to pay for their broadband or television package

The Which? consumer insight tracker also estimates that 560,000 households missed or defaulted on a housing payment over the month, with one in 20 renters (5.2%) and 1.4% of mortgage holders unable to find the money.

More than half of households (56%) – or an estimated 15.8 million – reported making at least one adjustment to cover essential spending such as utility bill, housing costs, groceries, school supplies and medicine in the last month.


What help is available if you’re struggling to pay your bills?

Firstly, contact the organisations or people you owe money to. They might agree to help by:

  • reducing your payments
  • giving you more time to pay

Each organisation is different, so it’s important to check with each one individually.


Priority payments

Some bills are classed as priorities because they cause very serious problems for you if you don’t pay them back.

Priority debts include:

  • court fines
  • council tax or rates
  • TV licence
  • child maintenance
  • gas and electricity
  • income tax, national insurance, and VAT
  • mortgage, rent and any loans secured against your home
  • hire purchase agreements – for essential purchases
  • missed payments owed to DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) or HRMC

Why is it so important to pay priority debts first?

It’s important to keep on top of priority payments as not paying carries serious consequences, such as:

  • being visited by bailiffs
  • receiving a court summons
  • being made bankrupt – because you haven’t paid your bills
  • having your heating or electricity cut off – because you haven’t paid your bills
  • losing your home – because you haven’t kept up with mortgage or rent payments


Non-priority debts

Non-priority debts pose less of a problem than priority debts, e.g. the consequences of not paying a non-priority debt are not as significant.

However, if you don’t pay non-priority debts, creditors could eventually take you to court or appoint a bailiff to collect the money owed.

Non-priority debts include:

  • overdrafts
  • personal loans
  • bank or building society loans
  • credit cards (inc store cards)
  • catalogue, home credit or in-store credit debts
  • payday loans
  • money borrowed from friends and family
  • unpaid utility bills such as water
  • unpaid parking fines
  • catalogue, home credit or in-store credit debts


What should you do if you’re struggling with debts?

Don’t bury your head in the sand if you’re struggling with problem debts. We can help with everything from checking you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to through to advising on the various debt solutions that are available. We‘ll help you find the best way forward for you. Find out the different ways you can get in touch.


Avatar of Caroline Chell

Caroline Chell

Caroline has worked in financial communications for more than 10 years, writing content on subjects such as pensions, mortgages, loans and credit cards, as well as stockbroking and investment advice.

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