Although we’re not yet two-thirds of the way through the year, I’m sure that once 2022 comes to an end, it will be commonly referred to as a financial ‘annus horribilis’.
A year, 30 years on from the Queen’s own annus horribilis, when our household finances were tested like never before.
Scary? Absolutely, but I fear that we’re heading for not just one annus horribilis, but two – and next year could well be far worse. Anni horribiles.
Without wanting to spoil your Sunday, I believe it will stretch our finances to the limit. Without enlightened thinking from whoever ends up occupying No10 (my money is on Liz Truss) and massive doses of forbearance from banks, building societies and energy suppliers, many households will simply not be able to cope.
Battered: Many households will simply not be able to cope with the financial hardship in the coming months
Since the last economic crisis of 2008, we have done our bit to restore the fortunes of the banks, bailing some out and being upstanding customers. It’s payback time. They now need to stand behind us.
Some people will not be able to afford their mortgage payments or monthly rent. Others will struggle to meet the payments on their credit card bills. A surge in home repossessions and tenant evictions cannot be ruled out. Perish the thought.
Before Thursday’s 0.5 percentage point rise in interest rates to 1.75 per cent, it was clear we faced some mighty financial challenges – most notably soaring energy bills and rampaging inflation. Challenges that are already consuming an ever greater slice of our household income.
Yet listening to Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey in the wake of the rate rise announcement, those challenges have suddenly become mightier. Of Everest rather than Ben Nevis proportion.
Bailey said inflation, running at a scary 8.2 per cent – and that’s according to the Bank’s preferred measure rather than the more commonly quoted 9.4 per cent – is now expected to hit 13.3 per cent in October.
This is just two months after forecasters at the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street had confidently predicted inflation would peak at 11 per cent. (I’ll leave you to decide whether these boffins deserve the generous salaries they earn.)
He also mentioned the word we all fear – ‘recession’. Soaring prices, he said, would push the UK economy into recession as early as October – and we will not come out of it until the end of 2023. So, 15 months of economic shrinkage, or maybe longer given the Bank’s inability to get any forecast right – indeed, anything at all right.
On average, households’ real income is likely to fall for the next two years as wage inflation fails to keep up with rising prices.
Average annual energy bills, fuelled by Vladimir Putin’s vile war in Ukraine and his attempt to hold Europe to ransom by flicking the off switch on gas supplies, are heading north of £3,300 in October. And if energy consultants Cornwall Insight are right, bills will remain well above £3,000 for the next 15 months. To put these numbers into context, the average bill is currently just short of £2,000.
Of course, economic contraction and higher fuel bills are bad news for business too. Company energy bills do not benefit from the price cap that applies to households. Job losses – big job losses – cannot be ruled out as businesses cut costs.
All rather bleak – and that’s without taking into account the impact of any escalation in China’s bullying of Taiwan. If China decided to blockade the island long-term – or even worse invade it – the impact on the world economy would be cataclysmic, as well as increase the threat of a superpower war.
After all, it is Taiwan that manufactures the semi-conductors (often referred to as chips or microchips) that make everything from our mobile phones, fridges through to the local cash machine work. Without them, we’re stuffed.
So what can be done, if anything, to ensure our household finances are best equipped to survive the approaching economic apocalypse?
Of course, we can help ourselves by ensuring our finances are shipshape.
So, while there is little we can do to ward off a jump in energy bills other than improve energy efficiency in our homes and not leave the lights on overnight, we can batten down our mortgage costs by taking out a fixed-rate mortgage. Many homeowners, thankfully, have already done this.
We can also take a firm grip of other key household bills – everything from insurance through to broadband and subscriptions. Shopping around, haggling with suppliers, and cancelling services seldom used will all help drive down our expenditure.
Energy bills are set to exceed £3,300 this autumn, according to the latest estimates
Yet, Government, utility providers, banks and building societies also need to step up to the plate.
So far, Prime Ministerial candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have said very little about the impending recession that Bailey’s crystal ball tells him is fast approaching. Indeed, hours after Bailey’s comments about recession, Truss confidently predicted that it ‘is not inevitable’, saying: ‘We can change the outcome.’
She may well be right given the unreliability of Bailey’s ball.
Yes, the £30billion of tax cuts (per year) that Truss has promised – primarily to National Insurance Contributions and corporation tax – would likely stimulate growth. But, simultaneously, they could keep the inflation pot boiling for longer and force interest rates even higher.
Meanwhile, Sunak’s promise of basic rate income tax cuts once inflation is tamed is a more conservative proposal (note the small ‘c’). But like Truss’s blueprint, there is nothing about helping households cope with the financial crisis lying in wait around the corner.
Hopefully they will flesh out some ideas over the coming days. Maybe an increase in the energy bill discounts (£400 per household) that start getting paid to households in instalments from October – or financial support targeted at low income households.
As for companies, they also need to do their bit to ensure households can withstand whatever any recession throws at them.
As we report elsewhere in the paper, Santander has taken the bull by the horns and written to a million customers urging them to get in touch if they are having problems paying their mortgage or other bills.
Such pro-activeness by lenders should become the norm, not remain the exception. It should be followed with an approach based on forbearance rather than foreclosure. No one saw such sky high energy bills coming. Consumers are not to blame.
We also need energy suppliers to refund credit balances promptly, rather than drag their feet as they do now. As for savings providers, banks especially, they must commit to passing on interest rate rises in full to their savers.
It’s what we have been calling for since December last year when Bailey’s Bank of England started its programme of gradual rate rises from 0.1 per cent to 1.75 per cent.
‘Give savers a rate rise,’ we demanded of the banks time and again until we were blue in the face. Yet they chose to ignore our calls and focus on profit generation.
The result is that savings rates have been left behind. According to data scrutineer Moneyfacts, the average rate on an easy access account was 0.2 per cent in December last year when the base rate was 0.1 per cent. Today the average rate is 0.67 per cent, compared with a base rate of 1.75 per cent. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out savers are being shortchanged. It’s not good enough.
Maybe that powder puff of a regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority – should have a word in the ear of bank bosses and remind them that they should treat customers fairly at all times.
Of course, we will do all we can to help readers through the tricky months that lie ahead (it’s in our DNA). We will also praise to the hilt those companies that demonstrate they care passionately about the financial interests of their customers. I’m all ears.
Seven easy steps YOU can take now to get ready for a slump
1) Fix your mortgage
The Bank of England base rate rise from 1.25 per cent to 1.75 per cent last week is the biggest increase in 27 years. But it will not stop there, so mortgage rates will continue to rise.
A one percentage point interest rate increase on a 25-year £200,000 repayment mortgage that tracks the base rate is equivalent to a monthly repayment hike of £104, so consider fixing your mortgage now.
If your existing fixed-rate deal ends in the next six months, start looking for a new deal so you can lock into a rate before prices rise again.
First-time buyers can get a 3.49 per cent two-year fixed deal with Cambridge Building Society with a 95 per cent loan-to-value. A £199 fee is payable.
Among the best five-year fixed-rate remortgage offers is one from First Direct at 3.09 per cent – assuming a 60 per cent loan-to-value. It comes with a £490 arrangement fee.
One of the best variable rate deals is 3.69 per cent from First Direct – based on a 75 per cent loan-to-value, and a £490 fee.
2) Lock in to better savings rates
Savings rates are rising, but loyalty does not pay in this market. So shop around.
Al Rayan Bank is one of the best providers at the moment, offering 1.8 per cent on its Everyday Saver account – with a minimum balance of £5,000. This could be a bolthole for your cash as you wait for further rate rises.
If you are willing to tie up cash for longer, consider a 3.3 per cent three-year bond with Union Bank of India, or a Shawbrook Bank five-year bond paying 3.4 per cent. Both require a minimum of £1,000.
3) Cut payments to energy firms
There will be nowhere to hide this autumn when energy bills soar. Average bills could rise to above £3,300 a year in October when regulator Ofgem is expected to raise the cap on gas and electricity prices.
Sadly, there are currently no great deals to move to. But you should check how much your supplier is demanding by way of monthly direct debit payments. If cash is building in your account, ask for it back – it is your money.
4) Switch your broadband deal
The internet has become an essential utility service that we increasingly rely upon. But once signed up that initial special deal soon lapses. According to comparison website MoneySuperMarket, the average household could save £180 a year by switching to a cheaper deal. Often it is not even necessary to change provider – just explain you have found a better offer elsewhere and demand that your existing provider matches or beats it. Most do.
Among the best current offers is a Virgin Media 18-month contract at £24 a month. As a sweetener, it throws in a £95 gift voucher.
5) Cancel TV subscriptions
Now that lockdowns are behind us, it is time to re-evaluate the TV subscription services we were once addicted to – and ditch them if they are not being used.
Amazon Prime is raising its fees from £79 to £95 a year from September 15 – providing an excuse to cancel the subscription. Netflix hiked prices earlier in the year. If you still want to watch its shows, switch to its basic, one device, £6.99 a month plan – and away from the multi-device £10.99 deal.
And ask yourself: Do you really need Disney+ or Apple+, at £7.99 a month and £4.99 a month respectively, when you already pay the BBC £159 a year for terrestrial TV?
6) Economise around the home
It may be hot now – but it won’t be long before we are forced to turn on the heating. The average home can save £375 a year, says Energy Saving Trust.
So now is the time to draughtproof windows and doors – where up to half our energy waste goes. You do not need to spend a fortune – just £10 on foam draught excluder tape. Then get into the routine of switching off electrics left on standby, turn off lights and stop using the tumble drier – hang your clothes outside instead.
7) Don’t pay interest on credit cards
If you regularly whip out your credit card to make payments, stop now unless you pay off the balance every month. Instead, move the sum owed on to a zero per cent balance transfer deal – where you pay no interest on borrowing for a limited period.
Among the most competitive is Sainsbury’s Bank’s 34-month Mastercard. No interest is charged on balance transfers for 34 months, but you do pay a one-off transfer fee of up to 3.88 per cent of the amount being put on the card. Any new spending after three months attracts interest at 21.95 per cent.