Eleven million Britons struggling to pay bills

·3 min read
Woman in kitchen with bills
Woman in kitchen with bills

The number of adults struggling to pay their bills and debts has soared to nearly 11 million, new figures show.

Some 3.1 million more people faced difficulties in January than they did in May last year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.

It found that 11% of adults had missed a bill or loan payment in at least three of the previous six months.

The FCA encouraged people to ask for help as household budgets were squeezed by the rising cost of living.

"Our research highlights the real impact the rising cost of living is having on people's ability to keep up with their bills, although we are pleased to see that people have been accessing help and advice," said Sheldon Mills, its executive director of consumers and competition.

"We've told lenders that they should provide support tailored to your needs," he added.

Energy, food and fuel prices have jumped in the last 18 months, putting pressure on personal finances.

Prices for most things have been rising and inflation, the rate at which prices go up, is at 10.1%, meaning goods are more than 10% more expensive on average than they were a year ago.

Researchers found that 29% of adults with a mortgage and 34% of renters had seen their payments increase in the six months to January this year.

The team also saw signs that some people had reduced or cancelled their insurance policies as a way of easing the pressure on their budgets.

The FCA said it had repeatedly reminded firms of the importance of supporting their customers and working with them to solve problems with payments and bills.

'Stop aggressive debt collection'

But Helen Undy, chief executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said the regulator needed to do more by cracking down on "aggressive" debt collection practices and limiting the number of times lenders could contact people who had missed a payment.

"Those actions would go a long way in mitigating the mental health impacts of the crisis, and could even save lives," she said.

The FCA said its survey suggested around half of UK adults (about 28.4 million people) felt more anxious or stressed due to the rising cost of living in January than they did six months earlier.

The body said it had reminded 3,500 lenders of how they should support borrowers in financial difficulty and added it had told 32 lenders to "make changes to the way they treat customers".

The FCA said this work had led to £29 million in compensation being secured for over 80,000 customers.

UK Finance, the trade association for the UK banking and finance industry, said lenders were contacting customers and would "always work with them to find the right solution for their particular needs and circumstances".

It urged people worried about their finances to contact their lender, and said discussing options would not affect a person's credit rating.

The FCA released its latest figures after gathering more than 5,000 responses as part of a UK-wide survey of people aged 18 and over.