Posted: Sat 1st Oct 2022

Which? calls on businesses like supermarkets to do more to help consumers as an “alarming” number of households struggle

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Oct 1st, 2022

Which? is calling on businesses such as supermarkets to do more for households, as new research from the consumer champion shows an alarming number of families are struggling with the financial and emotional impact of the cost of living crisis.

According to Which?’s latest consumer insight tracker, two-thirds of households (65%) made at least one financial adjustment – such as cutting back on essentials, selling items or dipping into savings – in the last month to cover essential spending.

This is the highest level the consumer champion has recorded in the last decade and equates to an estimated 18.2 million households.

As millions of people report pawning their possessions or skipping meals to make ends meet, or tell of sleepless nights due to financial worries.

Which? is launching a new campaign calling on businesses in essential sectors – supermarkets, telecoms and energy – to do more to help their customers through the cost of living crisis.

The consumer champions’ research shows an estimated 12.4 million households have had to cut back on essentials – by taking actions such as buying fewer groceries, medicines and school supplies and reducing their energy, water and telecoms usage – just to make ends meet.

This proportion has doubled compared to a year ago – with around four in 10 (44%) now saying they have had to cut back on essentials this month, compared to one in five (21%) in September 2021.

One in ten (10%) households said they had to sell or pawn their possessions to cover essential payments in the last month, compared to just five per cent this time last year.

Worryingly, three in 10 households (31%) said they have had to take money out of a savings account.

An estimated 2.5 million households said they missed or defaulted on a vital payment – such as a mortgage, rent, credit card or bill payment – in the last month.

This is a significant jump from the estimated 1.7 million who missed payments in September 2021, demonstrating that many who were coping financially last year are now struggling to make ends meet.

The missed payment rate varied dramatically among groups of consumers, with a quarter (24%) of Universal Credit recipients reporting having missed a payment.

One respondent said: “I suffer with my lungs and have to keep warm – with prices rising, I am worried that I will not be able to have my heating on which will endanger my health.”

One person said: “It’s like a financial lockdown. Parts of my life, of my dreams and aspirations for the future are being put on pause, possibly indefinitely. There are parts of my life up until now that I can no longer afford to have.”

Which?’s research also lays bare the hidden mental and emotional impact of cost of living pressures, with a quarter of UK consumers (26%) saying they had trouble sleeping due to worries about paying the bills.

Just over half (52%) of people reported feeling anxious when thinking about the rising cost of living, whilst three in 10 (28%) reported feeling overwhelmed and two in five (38%) said they felt powerless.

One respondent said: “I worry and have trouble sleeping, especially about the energy prices, I worry that I won’t be able to afford to put the heating on.”

Businesses are also facing pressure due to soaring inflation. But there is a lot they can do to help make consumers’ lives better and more affordable. Which? is launching a campaign which identifies a range of specific actions essential businesses can take to support consumers.

The consumer champion’s calls to business aim to ensure that people have access to the best value products and services across the UK – for example, cheaper social tariffs for broadband and own-brand budget ranges in supermarkets, particularly in low income areas.

Which? is also calling on companies to provide transparent pricing for essential services and asking telecoms and energy companies to make sure their customer service departments are properly resourced to cope with an expected surge in demand.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“Our research has found that many households are struggling with the financial and emotional impact of the cost of living crisis – with record numbers having to cut back on essentials just to stay afloat.

“Which? is calling on businesses to do all they can to support their customers through this extraordinary cost of living crisis. While government intervention is necessary, we also believe businesses across essential services can and should do more to help.

“Which? has identified specific actions businesses can take to support consumers. For example, energy firms must make it easy for customers to understand how much they are paying and why and ensure their customer service departments are properly resourced to support customers.

“Telecoms firms should also allow customers to leave without exit fees if their costs change mid-contract and supermarkets should provide really clear and comparable pricing and ensure affordable budget ranges are available in areas where they are needed most.”

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