There are just under 8.3 million people living alone, and 3 million lone parent families, and while plenty of people will have chosen the freedom and opportunity presented by the single life, millions have had no say in the matter.
So it feels particularly cruel to highlight that being single comes with a financial penalty. Calculations by Hargreaves Lansdown (HL) show that it costs £860 more a month than being part of a couple.
Where the singles tax comes from
The lion’s share of this is down to the rent or mortgage, because while a couple may need exactly the same number of bedrooms as a single person, they can split the cost between them.
The average rent outside London, according to Rightmove, is £1,162 a month, which couples can split and singles have to shoulder alone.
The same goes for everything from gas, electricity and water bills to broadband. And even where bills are cut for single people, they’re not cut enough. Council tax, for example, doesn’t get halved when you live alone — it’s cut by just a quarter.
Then there are those bills which feel they ought to be halved for a single person, but don’t work out that way — like food and drink.
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Standard packaging sizes are not designed for single people, which often either means buying smaller and more expensive versions, or risking wastage. As any single person who ever bought a large box of cornflakes knows, there are only so many stale cornflakes a person can stomach.
Even the tax system favours couples. It offers tax breaks for people who are married or in civil partnerships, from the marriage allowance to the fact there’s no inheritance tax on assets passed between spouses after death, or capital gains tax on assets passed while you’re alive.
The impact on single people
As a result, the HL Savings & Resilience Barometer found that single people are worse off than their coupled-up counterparts across the board.
Single people living alone are less likely than couples to have enough emergency savings, enough cash left over at the end of the month to be considered resilient, or to be on track for a moderate income in retirement. The last point is particularly key, because even if you’re single-handedly keeping the wolf from the door, there’s a real risk you’re building up financial problems in later life.
Life is particularly tough for single parents, 76% of whom suffer from poor or very poor resilience — compared to 27% of couples with children.
Even without the expense of children, life is tougher, and 53% of single people living alone face poor or very poor financial resilience — compared with just 16% of couples living on their own.
What can you do?
None of this is going to feel fair, particularly for those people who haven’t specifically chosen the single life, but you can put this knowledge to work.
If you’ve made an active decision to live alone, then knowing the price you’re paying for this freedom makes it easier for you to weigh up whether it’s worth it.
It may convince you to consider sharing with a friend or family member. Alternatively, it may encourage you to consider letting out any extra space in your home on a part time basis — through anything from a Monday-to-Friday let, to an occasional Airbnb.
It’s also worth tracking down the couples discounts you can take advantage of. Things like railcards, for example, don’t require you to be in any kind of relationship, so the Two Together card can be used by any two people who want to travel together regularly.
Likewise, most gyms don’t require any kind of proof of couple status when you join up together, so you can join with anyone else. And if you’re prepared to share a twin room with a friend on holiday, there are massive discounts to be enjoyed.
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You can plan around tax issues too. Given that you can’t share assets and take advantage of another person’s allowance, it’s even more valuable to use things like ISAs, which are tax free.
And given you can’t share your spouse’s inheritance tax (IHT) allowances, it’s worth considering whether you should be making gifts during your lifetime. You have gift allowances each year, or you can give a bigger gift, and as long as you live for another seven years it’s counted as being outside your estate for IHT purposes.
It still doesn’t make your financial life fair when you’re single, and you’ll still face far more expense than your coupled-up counterparts. But given that you have no choice but to play with the hand you’re dealt, it’s worth trying for the odd win along the way.