Consumer sentiment and financial wellbeing in April 2020
- Consumer outlook on their current household situation is still fairly optimistic and outlook on future finances has improved slightly after last month’s nosedive, perhaps indicating that government measures to tackle the impact of coronavirus on households have been effective in minimising concerns about personal finances.
- However, confidence in the future of the UK economy remains at the record low it sank to last month, at -79 points. This compares to -17 in February, before the coronavirus crisis developed.
- 14% of consumers reported having not paid a bill, housing, loan or credit card cost as normal in the last month. This includes having defaulted, arranged a payment plan or holiday or negotiated some other change such as a payment reduction. Such actions were most common for mortgage payments, with 16% of all mortgage holders reporting having taken some action to reduce their payments in the past month.
After falling in March, consumer outlook on their current household finances recovered in April to levels similar to those recorded pre Covid-19. With regard to their future household financial situation, 14% of consumers thought this would improve in the next 12 months whilst 46% thought that it would worsen, giving a confidence score of -32 points. This is an improvement compared to the -43 points in March, but still remains lower than at any other point recorded since 2016 when the Which? Insight Tracker began to be measured in its current form.
This upturn in confidence in both current and future household finances suggests that government measures to tackle the impact of coronavirus on households might have had some success in reducing concerns about personal finances.
Consumer confidence in the future of the UK economy, however, is still overwhelmingly pessimistic, with no signs of improvement since last month. It stands at -79 points, almost exactly the same as in March (-78 points), and significantly worse than in February (-17 points).
The improvements in confidence that have been seen are driven by those in work and those retired with a private pension. The outlook of the unemployed was slightly more negative in April compared to March, and the outlook of those on a state pension only did not change.
14% of our sample reported having defaulted, arranged a payment holiday, or made some other change to at least one major household expense in the last month (a bill, housing costs or loan or credit card payment). In response to the government measures taken as a result of the coronavirus crisis (see methodological notes below), this wave of the tracker included payment holidays for the first time.
We found that 16% of all mortgage holders reported having taken some action to reduce their payments in the past month. Approximately one in eight (13%) reported having arranged a payment holiday or payment plan. By contrast, only 9% of renters took action to reduce their rent payments, but defaults were more common among this group, with 5% reporting that they had defaulted on a rent payment in the past month.
Nearly half (46%) of consumers in our sample reported having made one of a number of adjustments to cover the month’s essential spending. These adjustments include cutting back spending on essential items, taking money out of savings, using an overdraft facility, taking out a loan or credit card or selling possessions to cover the month’s essential spending. Essential spending was defined as including groceries, housing costs, utility bills, school supplies and medicines.
This figure is fairly consistent with previous waves of our survey, suggesting that the crisis has not yet resulted in an increase in overall adjustments made to cover essential spending. However, there is some evidence that the proportion taking certain individual measures had changed. 29% reported having cut back spending on essential items in the past month, which is a higher proportion than has been previously recorded.
Published on 04.05.20
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This article summarises the main findings from the April wave of Which?’s Consumer Insight tracker survey. This was an additional wave with a reduced number of questions that were focussed on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on consumer confidence and financial wellbeing. The fieldwork was conducted by Populus on behalf of Which between 17th and 19th April 2020. A nationally representative sample of 2,108 consumers was surveyed.