Struggling to keep the lights on: ONS impact of cost-of-living crisis

The ONS measured whether people were struggling with energy bills, rent or mortgage – and whether they were behind with payments. 45% of us found it difficult to afford energy bills between June and September (40% in the preceding three months), while 30% found it hard to afford the rent or mortgage (up from 26%).

72% of those on prepayment meters found it hard compared with 42% who paid either by direct debit or by bill. The lower your income, the more likely you are to struggle, so more than half of those with incomes under £20,000 found it hard to pay the energy bills, compared to fewer than a quarter of those earning £50,000 or more.

60% of renters found it difficult to pay the energy bill and 39% struggled with the rent, compared with 43% and 23% of those with a mortgage. 55% of disabled people found it difficult to pay energy bills, compared with 40% of non-disabled people.

69% of Black or Black British people found it difficult to pay the energy bill, compared to 59% of Asian or Asian British people, and 44% of White people.

The ONS has published a report on the impact of the rising cost of living: Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain – Office for National Statistics (

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Those on lower incomes are being crushed between rising energy bills and housing costs, including those on pre-payment meters, renters, people with disabilities, Black or Black British people and Asian or Asian British people. And the pressure is only going to get worse.

“Almost half of us are finding it difficult to pay the bills at the moment (45%), but this rockets to almost three quarters of those on pre-payment meters (72%), and three in five renters (60%).

“And the pressure is mounting. Direct debit customers should be able to pay the same amount each month, so that higher winter costs are spread throughout the year. However, some calculations of direct debits at a time of rising prices have been so wayward that there are no guarantees. Meanwhile, those on pre-payment meters pay for energy as they go, so will be hit hard as winter bites. It’s particularly alarming that this is the group that’s already most likely to be struggling with bills. So it seems particularly unfair that they are charged even more for their energy than direct debit customers.

“Renters are also facing some impossible challenges. They’re finding it harder to pay their energy bills and cover their housing costs than those with mortgages. This owes something to the fact that it makes up a bigger chunk of their spending. The report found that in 2021 people with a mortgage paid an average of 16% of household income on the mortgage while renters paid an average of 23%.

“Renters are also more exposed to rises in living costs. The rapidly falling number of properties available to rent, coupled with escalating numbers of renters means that rents have been soaring in recent months for anyone whose tenancy has come to an end. Meanwhile, those who pay a mortgage and are on a fixed rate are protected from price rises for the length of their fix – typically two or five years. For them, there’s a nasty shock lying in wait when they need to remortgage – especially since the mini-budget ramped up mortgage rates so dramatically. However, in the interim their bills feel marginally more manageable.”