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More households turning to debt to pay for essentials, survey shows

Nearly a fifth of households in Britain owe money after missing a repayment on credit or a loan, as consumers turn to debt to fund everyday expenses, new research has revealed.

Families in serious financial difficulty are increasingly taking on debt to pay for essentials, according to a survey from the Abrdn Financial Fairness Trust and the University of Bristol.

It comes as the cost of living continues to rise, with food prices still more than a 10th higher last month than the same time last year, according to official figures.

The survey found that 16% of households owe money due to missing at least one payment on a credit commitment, which can include a credit card, personal loan, motor finance, and buy-now-pay-later.

It is higher than the 11% who said so in a survey conducted in May this year.

Nearly two thirds of all households across the UK have some consumer debt, the survey of about 5,600 adults showed.

But middle-income households, incorporating the middle 20% of incomes among working-age households, were more likely to owe at least £5,000 across their various forms of credit than those on the lowest 20% of incomes.

It suggests the total amount of credit owed does not always relate to the level of financial difficulty that households experience – with people often using credit cards for benefits such as building credit scores and benefiting from cashback and rewards.

Meanwhile, the survey found that around 15% of households in Britain have borrowed money in the past month to cover everyday expenses such as food and bills, up from the 13% who said so in May.

The figure rises to 35% of those who are in financial difficulty.

Karen Barker, head of policy and research at Abrdn Financial Fairness Trust, said: “It is particularly worrying that many in serious financial difficulties continue to take on debt just to pay for essentials.

“This group is also more likely to borrow from friends and family, meaning their loved ones may be going without to help keep them warm and fed.”

She added that energy bills are set to rise from January, adding to the risk of those in serious financial difficulty being “forced to fall even further into debt to stay afloat”.