It’s becoming painfully clear that making ends meet to even a basic extent is getting increasingly difficult for Brits. According to a recent study carried out by icount.co.uk, households up and down the country are finding themselves with little choice other than to fall into arrears, in order to allocate their finances to more important expenses.
The findings are nothing short of shocking, revealing than an incredible 6 million UK residents are now at least £300 in arrears with their council tax payments. In addition, around 20% of the country has fallen behind on gas or electric bills by at least £100, while one in ten owe at least £200 in arrears to their water suppliers. In total, more than 9 million people are known to have been in arrears with the utility companies for over a year.
In terms of the bills UK households struggle with hardest of all, council tax topped the table by a wide margin. The study found that at least 40% of households find meeting their council tax obligations tricky, with over 40% having been forced to turn to friends and family to borrow money to pay their bills. Likewise, more than 40% of those polled stated that they have used their overdraft facilities at least once to pay their council tax bills.
Electricity bills were next on the list, with more than a quarter of the population (26.1%) finding it difficult to keep the lights on each month. However, electricity bills represented the lowest arrears amount, with 17% owing amounts ranging between £100-£200.
Perhaps most shockingly of all however, more than one-third of all UK residents stated that they have at least once had to make the decision between cooking a meal or heating their homes. At least a third revealed that they do not switch the home’s heating systems on until November due to fear of excessive costs, while 40% have encountered arguments within the household with regard to whether or not the heating should be switched on.
CEO of icount, Samuel Mond said:
“The sheer number of people in the UK struggling to pay essential utility bills is worrying. These payments contribute to basic day-to-day quality of life such as light and warmth,”
“The fact remains that Council Tax bills are presenting the most significant problem for over 27 million people living in the UK, and failing to keep up with payments could significantly impact credit ratings,”
“Council Tax payments may be considered lower priority for those people struggling to pay utility bills. The direct impact may be perceived to be less, than if the electric, gas or water is cut off by the supplier.”
Looking further into the research, there’s a marked difference between men and women and their budgeting for utility bills. Men are 10% more likely to be in utility arrears, but women spend a longer time owing money. 20% of women report being in arrears for more than a year, compared to just 12% of men.
In terms of what can be done to take control of the problem, those facing any kinds of issues with essential bill payments are being urged not to simply ignore the problem. If nothing can be realistically done to bring costs down, it’s advisable to get in touch with service providers to discuss available options. In addition, it may be necessary to reconsider current lifestyle choices, in order to ensure that sufficient money is kept to one side for important bill payments.