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Behind on the basics report

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A closer look at households in arrears on their essential bills

For some, just keeping up with basic household costs can be a real struggle. 140,000 people who received debt advice from us in 2017 were behind on at least one of their essential household bills.

These household bills could include energy bills, council tax, mortgage or rent. We also estimate that across Great Britain, over 3m people fell behind in the last 12 months.

Worryingly, our data reveals that within those in financial difficulty, certain groups may be at particularly high risk of falling into arrears, including:

  • lower income families
  • younger people
  • renters, and
  • people with a vulnerability.

These groups are often more likely to have been affected by factors that increase the risk of falling into arrears – a squeeze on incomes, rising living costs, insecure work or regular income shocks.

3 million people across Great Britain fell behind on their essential household bills in the last 12 months

Our recommendations

Given the scale of the problem, there's a clear case for action both to help people in arrears and to prevent people from falling behind in the first place. We'd like to see:

  • Further action to help those in arrears get the right support to get back on track
  • A commitment that all debts to government, such as tax, council tax and benefit overpayments be included as part of a 'Breathing Space' scheme
  • The DWP ensure that deductions from benefits are only applied when appropriate, and won't cause hardship for the individual or their family
  • The government lead a review of how to increase households' financial resilience, and
  • Utilities providers, creditors, local government and landlords examine whether there's more they can do to help those with fluctuating incomes to meet their regular payments

Download the report now to see our full research and recommendations.

Download now

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“I wish to thank your staff for all the great help they gave me when I was in so much debt.
They were a pillar of support to me.” (Leslie, Essex)

Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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