Even in a Wealthy Country, the Necessities of Life Are a Luxury for Some

Food, clothing and shelter are often considered the necessities of life, and in many parts of the world, including Britain, adequate heating of that shelter should be a given during the interminable winter. Yet many people are forced to sacrifice some necessities simply in order to keep a roof over their heads.

While the problem is particularly poignant in the dead of winter, especially just after the Christmas holidays – a late 2015 survey by the flat-share site SpareRoom indicated that one in 10 renters are falling into debt to keep a roof over their heads – it’s really an issue all year round. Granted, heating expenses significantly rack up the costs for UK residents in the wintertime, as indicated in a study by the housing charity Shelter, which estimated that 2.7 million parents across England have been cutting back on heating or clothes shopping to meet their housing costs. However, as both housing prices and rents continue to rise, thousands of families are forced every month to make a choice between paying the mortgage or rent and springing for other necessities of life. Things may be marginally easier during summer months, but not by much. And overall, the problem is only getting worse as landlords typically raise rents during the first and coldest part of the year.

Many are turning to short-term loans to make ends meet

In the SpareRoom survey referenced above, one in five of the 1,000 renters surveyed either said they planned to rely on loans or savings to pay their rent, or that they would simply be unable to pay the rent at all. Some said they would use their salary, and a small proportion said they would take out a payday loan. Indeed, payday loans – whose convenience comes at the cost of high interest rates – are often used not just for unexpected expenses or emergencies, but to help meet the costs of everyday living.

Obviously, relying on payday loans is not the ideal lifestyle, and the unwary borrower can quickly get in over his or her head. But a payday loan doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster, and is sometimes the best or only way out of a very tight spot. Borrowers can avoid trouble by only using the loan for something they really need, by not borrowing more than they can pay back within the stated terms of the loan, and by carefully researching lenders to find one that best fits their needs.

Avoiding disaster

Clearly it is important to handle debt responsibly and make every effort to pay back all loans. But sometimes when one is facing eviction or foreclosure and there simply isn’t enough money to go around, a little bit of financial triage is in order. Shelter helpline adviser Danielle Goodwin stresses that renters or homeowners facing problems should ask for help early, and should always focus on housing costs first. Even if you’re getting dunned by payday lenders or credit cards, your priority must be for you to keep your home.

Ms. Goodwin says that if you’re behind on your mortgage, contact your lender as soon as possible to see if you can work things out. The same goes for renters; communicate with your landlord, and also see if you can claim any type of housing benefit to help you pay the rent. Keeping the communication lines open is paramount; respond in a timely manner to all letters and phone calls, and keep detailed written records of all communications and any agreements reached.

Most importantly, be informed. There is a lot of good information online that can help those in mortgage or debt arrears. The debt charity StepChange website has a wealth of information that can help those who are struggling with housing costs to keep a roof over their heads.

It doesn’t seem right that in a country as wealthy as ours, that so many people are struggling to afford the bare necessities for survival, much less the occasional luxury. But help is available, and as long as there are good people and organisations working to help struggling Britons turn their situations around, the picture isn’t all bleak by any means.