The number of people struggling to make all their bills and credit commitments on time remains concerningly high with one in five people grappling with debt in January 2023, according to the City regulator.
January usually tends to be a month when people particularly struggle with their debts, as bills from Christmas pile up. But the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says the number of those struggling has increased by 3.1 million since May 2022 - jumping from around 7.8 million in May last year to 10.9 million in January 2023.
And the number of UK adults who had missed bills or loan payments in at least three of the previous six months is also estimated by the regulator to have increased by 1.4 million, from 4.2 million (8%) in May 2022 to 5.6 million (11%) in January 2023.
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Researchers also found that 29% of adults with a mortgage and 34% of renters had experienced payment increases in the six months to January this year.
There were also signs of some people reducing their insurance cover to save money, with 8% of people having cancelled one or more policies and 7% having reduced their level of cover – something that could leave them worse off or in difficulty if something goes wrong.
Unsurprisingly, the FCA also found that the cost of living is having an impact on people’s mental wellbeing, with around 28.4 million people in January 2023 feeling more anxious or stressed due to the rising cost of living than six months earlier.
Some 28% had lost sleep due to money worries. One woman told the survey she had used credit to pay for car repairs, home insurance and food shopping. Another said she had used all her savings to fill her oil tank and she relied on oil to heat her home.
The FCA is reminding borrowers that they can get help from their lenders if they are struggling to keep up with payments.
Laura Suter, head of personal finance at AJ Bell, says: “Anyone struggling with repayments needs to face the issue head on: they should approach their lender to at least find out their options and weigh up which might work best for them. If they want an independent opinion they could speak to a charity like Citizens Advice to get more advice.”
The FCA will introduce a new consumer duty in the summer. The duty will require firms to act to deliver good outcomes for consumers and make sure that they are properly supported while using a financial product or service.
Meanwhile, only 3% of people in a separate YouGov survey, commissioned by HSBC, were aware that they can contact their bank or building society to discuss their financial worries without it impacting their credit score.
The first point of call if you’re struggling with a bill is the provider.
One area of concern is mortgages. The FCA has already forecast that 356,000 people will have missed a mortgage payment by the end of June 2024
Your mortgage lender should offer a range of options if you’re struggling with your home loan. This can include:
- a temporary mortgage payment holiday (potentially for up to a year)
- extending your mortgage term
- switching from a repayment to interest-only mortgage to ease monthly bills
While all these options will cut payments in the short term, they come with a price tag: you’ll likely pay more on your mortgage in the long run.
Katie Binns is an award-winning journalist, and former Sunday Times writer where she spent 10 years covering news, culture, travel, personal finance and celebrity interviews. She has also written for the Times, Telegraph, i paper and Woman and Home magazine.
Her investigative work on financial abuse has examined the response of banks, the Financial Ombudsman and the child maintenance service to victims, and resulted in a number of debt and mortgage prisoners being set free.
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