How the cost of living crisis could affect the average family in Kent

by My Kent Family reporter
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For weeks we've been hearing about rising energy prices, the highest rate of inflation for years and councils raising their council taxes. But how will this actually affect people's pockets?

Amy Nickalls, Chris Britcher and Juliana Cruz Lima crunch the numbers to see how an average Kent family could be affected.

The Jones' are like thousands of family across the county who are facing a dramatic rise in the cost of living
The Jones' are like thousands of family across the county who are facing a dramatic rise in the cost of living

Meet the Jones family.

The happily married Michael and Amanda Jones are your typical next door neighbours - the university sweethearts who decided to settle down away from the hustle and bustle of London.

Thanks to a generous sum of money left to Amanda by her favourite grandparents, the couple were able to buy a property in the coastal town of Folkestone not long after saying their vows.

They live there with their eight-year-old Charlotte and the Harry who's nearly three.

Michael, 33, and Amanda, 32, both work regular nine-to-five jobs and together have a combined income of £66,000. Amanda earns around £25,000* a year and Michael around £41,000*.

They enjoy the occasional trip to Wingham with the kids, make the most of the beach in the summer and, when they can get the child care, date night at a local restaurant.

Their story will be familiar to millions of people across the country, but soon with inflation expecting to peak at 7% in April, council tax rising and the energy price cap going up, the more exciting things in life may have to be a thing of the past.

We take a look at how the Jones', and families across the country just like them, will have to tighten their belts as the cost of living crisis hits.

*Average wage for a man and woman in Folkestone according to Plumplot.co.uk.

The National Insurance increase will spent on easing the strains on the NHS and social care
The National Insurance increase will spent on easing the strains on the NHS and social care

National Insurance contributions

We've all cursed the chunk of tax taken from our pay packets - and in April, the amount heading to Whitehall coffers is set to increase.

In January, after much speculation it would be scrapped, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that the government was pushing ahead with its intention to increase our National Insurance contributions.

If you earn more than £9,568 a year, or £184 per week, it will erode your take-home pay.

National Insurance goes towards state-administered benefits - such as pensions and maternity allowances. It also supplements funding to the NHS.

And as of April it will be increasing by 1.25% points. In other words, for every pound you earn, an additional 1.25p will be heading to the taxman - the equivalent of a 10% hike in current contributions.

The government hopes the rise - the first increase since 2003 - will raise £12 billion; money, it says, which will be spent on easing the NHS and social care.

As of the start of the following financial year, in April 2023, the additional fee we will all pay will become known as the Health and Social Care Levy.

But whatever it's called, the bottom line is, you will end up seeing more money deducted from your salary each time you get a pay slip.

The Health and Social Care Levy will hit pockets as more money will be deducted from wages
The Health and Social Care Levy will hit pockets as more money will be deducted from wages

The Jones': National Insurance levels paid by each employee are dependant on the amount of money you get paid. So Amanda, earning £25,000 a year is currently paying £1,851.84 a year. But in April that will increase to £2,003.40.

Michael, on the other hand, as the family's main earner on £41,000 currently pays a National Insurance contribution of £3,771.84. From April, that annual deduction will rise to £4,123.40.

Combined, it means our family are looking at seeing their combined contributions being hiked up by £503.12 a year. That's the equivalent of £41.93p a month. Just by way of comparison, the average mobile phone bill in the UK, according to Ofcom, is £46.

The average UK rent rose by 6% in September last year
The average UK rent rose by 6% in September last year

Buying or renting a house

The average cost of rent is £1,128pcm for a two bedroom property in the South East, according to the HomeLet Rental Index.

Whether this will go up in the coming months will depend on your tenancy agreement. Landlords can normally only increase the rent once a year without your agreement. But with interest rates finally rising again, landlord mortgage rates will be starting to rise.

A fixed term tenancy can only be raised at the end of the term, unless you agree for a rise beforehand.

As explained on the government website, you must be given one months' notice before they can raise your rent.

The average UK rent had already risen by 6% by September last year and, according to Zoopla, could rise by another 4.5% by the end of 2022.

First-time buyers are facing an equally challenging time. At the end of last year Nationwide Building Society said the average house price rose by 10% in 2021. That's up by £24,000.

And with rising interest rates, will come higher mortgage payments.

In December, Karen Noye, a mortgage expert at wealth management firm Quilter, said: “As we move into 2022 – and away from the whirlwind property market seen throughout 2021 – we are likely to see a slowdown in property prices and transactions, particularly if the Bank of England further increases interest rates.

“While we may see the property market slow, this does not mean buying a home will become instantly more affordable. Alongside the already inflated housing market, mortgage rates have increased following the Bank of England’s rate rise, and as inflation does not appear to be slowing, costs will likely continue to rise."

The average property in Folkestone sold for £254,772 in the last year
The average property in Folkestone sold for £254,772 in the last year

The Jones': After a healthy inheritance from an elderly relative, Amanda and Michael were able to put a deposit down on their house two years ago.

The average property in Folkestone sold for £254,772 in the last year. The Jones' have 33 years left on their mortgage at 3% interest which costs them £882.75 per month.

They have three years left on their fixed term so can rest assured this will stay the same until 2025.

No one knows what the future will hold but it's important they remember to contact their lender or mortgage broker to see if they can offer a new fixed term deal, when their existing deal nears the end.

Council tax

The last two years have been difficult for most sectors and councils are no exception.

Last year, to protect frontline services following the pandemic, councils across Kent have had to take £35m from their 'rainy day' funds.

Kent County Council used £5.3m of reserves. Leader Roger Gough said at the time: “The continued financial pressure in delivering social care, coupled with the massive financial challenges of responding to Covid-19, has brought about a situation of unprecedented risk and uncertainty.

"Covid-19 has exacerbated what was already a very challenging financial future for local authorities.”

With a drop in government funding and a need to try and replace these funds, this year was always going to see a rise in council tax.

The figure you pay is made up of what are known as 'precepts' from Kent County Council, Kent Police, Kent Fire and Rescue Service and your lower tier councils.

Council tax contributes to 70% of the budget. This year it will bring in £823m of KCC's £1.182bn.

Earlier this month, councillors at KCC agreed to a 2.99% increase to the council's precept. For a Band D property this is £1,461.24 per year and includes an adult social care levy of £173.25.

For those living in Medway, this is expected to rise by 2.94%.

In January, police chiefs agreed a rise of £10 per year for a Band D property.

Storm Eunice postponed Kent Fire and Rescue Service's meeting to agree its precept for the next financial year. The agenda report shows a recommendation of 1.89% taking it to £83.35 a year for an average property.

This takes the total for a family living in a Band D property to £1,772.59 per year.

The final amount to be added will be decided by each individual district, borough, town and parish council which will roughly add another three to four hundred pounds on the yearly total.

The Jones' will pay £2,136.83 this year for their council tax, an overall rise of £63.47 per year
The Jones' will pay £2,136.83 this year for their council tax, an overall rise of £63.47 per year

The Jones': Their house is classified as a Band D property and in 2021/22 they paid the equivalent of £172.78 every month, which is £2,073.36 per year.

For 2022/2023, on top of the £1,772.59 a year they will also have to pay the precepts of both Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Folkestone Town Council.

Tonight, Folkestone councillors are expected agreed a rise of 1.96%. This means the Jones will pay £364.24 per year for both lower tier councils.

Their total is now £2,136.83 an overall rise of £63.47 per year.

There are some discounts that people can apply for including if you live on your own, if someone in your home has a disability or you are a student. More information on this and how to apply can be found on your local council websites.

This year, Mr and Mrs Jones will be among the 525,000 bill payers in Kent eligible to get a £150 council tax discount as part of the government's rebate scheme to help with the rise in energy bills. All properties in bands A to D will get the rebate from April.

Energy prices are rising. Stock picture
Energy prices are rising. Stock picture

Energy

The energy sector went into meltdown at the end of last year.

As the economy started to open up again, demand for gas sky rocketed and the supply from Russia dropped. In addition, a cold winter in Europe saw gas supplies depleted, while a lack of electricity generated by wind turbines created something of a perfect storm, driving up the prices of both gas - which has quadrupled in the last six months - and electricity.

Several companies collapsed as the cost they were buying in the energy at, exceeded that they were allowed to charge customers for.

But 2022 didn't magically make these problems go away.

Every year, Ofgem (the energy regulator) sets a cap for how much suppliers can charge you per unit of energy. This is decided every February and August and designed to prevent companies making huge profits.

Earlier this month, the regulator raised the limit by £693 per year to a record £1,971 to account for the rise in cost of gas to suppliers.

For customers with prepayment (or pay-as-you-go) meters the price cap will go up by £708 to £2,017. It's worth noting, if you own a large property, or use a lot of power, your bill can still exceed this amount.

According to personal finance site Nimblefins, the average UK household spent £111.6 per month on gas and electricity. From April this is likely to rise to £164 per month for those paying by direct debit.

In October, the Jones' will get an automatic £200 discount on their energy bill. Picture: iStock/PA
In October, the Jones' will get an automatic £200 discount on their energy bill. Picture: iStock/PA

The Jones': As with most costs to people living in Kent, the cost of energy is higher than the average.

Nimblefins puts the cost of energy for 2021 for the average home in the South East at £113.6 a month.

If the expected rise of the national average is 47.7%, come April this will jump to £167.79.

Under normal circumstances, the advice is to shop around to find a better deal. But the energy crisis means comparison sites can't offer the deals as energy firms aren't offering special rates.

There are some things that will help the Jones' in the short term.

In April, as explained previously, the family will receive a £150 council tax rebate.

In October, they will get an automatic £200 discount on their energy bill. They will have to pay this back at £40 per year from 2023. The council tax rebate does not have to be repaid.

These five top tips could also help drop the cost.

The family's water bills look set to go down in slightly April. Stock picture
The family's water bills look set to go down in slightly April. Stock picture

Water

Southern Water has rarely been out of the headlines for the past few months.

Untreated sewage was discharged into rivers and seas for the equivalent of seven years and the company was fined £90 million following a court case last July.

Up to 10,000 contaminated oysters are believed to have entered the food chain, dogs became violently ill after swimming, ships were damaged and one home was almost flooded.

Chief Executive Ian McAulay said heads will roll after the colossal and deliberate sewage spills.

But despite all of this, the company will drop annual bills by 1.3%.

In April 2021, the average customer was paying £406.91 a year. But according to Southern Water, for 2022/23 it will drop to £401.54.

Not having a long soak in the bath could also save the family money. Stock picture
Not having a long soak in the bath could also save the family money. Stock picture

The Jones': Long soaks in the bath for Amanda had become rare once the children arrived. It also keeps the water bill down.

Quick showers, keeping an eye on the tap when brushing the kids teeth and washing up are all really simple ways for the family to keep the price nice and low.

By being slightly more savvy, the Jones' can hope to keep the bill down to £33.46 a month - the average - or lower.

Broadband is a necessity with many needing it to work or learn from home over the past two years. Stock picture
Broadband is a necessity with many needing it to work or learn from home over the past two years. Stock picture

Broadband

Twenty years ago this would have been deemed a luxury that only a few families could afford.

But now it's a necessity, with many needing it to work or learn from home over the past two years.

According to Which?, most suppliers are expected to raise their prices by around 9%.

However, there is more room for negotiating and haggling when it comes to your broadband and television deals.

The Jones love sitting back and relaxing as they watch movies together. Stock picture
The Jones love sitting back and relaxing as they watch movies together. Stock picture

The Jones': A Netflix binge in the evening instead of going to the cinema will be one way to cut back for the family of four this year.

This is an area of their finances where the couple have been extra savvy.

If you're in need of two Virgin boxes, a landline, a mobile phone SIM contract with all the trimmings, haggling for a cheaper price is an option. Our business editor did just this and he got his deal for £110 per month.

But the Jones decided they didn't really need National Geographic or re-runs of Friends on E4 endlessly.

So, a comparison website search found internet deals for £20 per month. Netflix subscription for £9.99 and two phone contracts totalling £60 bring their new total to £90.

With some clever negotiating between friends and family, they get the occasional Disney+ and Prime Video use too...

April's inflation could take a hit on food prices. Stock picture
April's inflation could take a hit on food prices. Stock picture

Food

Something that is definitely not a luxury is food. And this is where the rise in inflation is going to hit people the hardest.

Inflation is expected to hit 7% in April as the economy continues to recover from several lockdowns and the Covid pandemic over the last two years.

Inflation, in a nutshell, is calculated by adding up the costs of everything from energy prices to cinema tickets and the cost of services and goods in our supermarkets. The sign of a healthy economy is for inflation to rise around 2%. It shows gradual growth and should keep pace with wage growth.

In January of this year, inflation was recorded as increasing by 5.5% on January 2021. And it's expected to keep climbing. It's worrying as, according to the Office for National Statistics, wage growth in December (the last month for which figures are available and excluding bonuses) was just 3.7%.

But this doesn't quite reveal the full picture.

Campaigner Jack Monroe went viral on Twitter when she pointed out that the supermarket's value ranges, which are often the cheapest, had in fact doubled in price over the years which hits the poorest families the hardest.

According to personal finance site Nimblefins, the average family of four would spend around £151 each week on food—£99 on the weekly shop and £52 on restaurant and takeaway meals. Or £604 per month.

If inflation hits 7% this will rise to £646.28 compared to the year before.

The weekly food bill is something that that most families are going to have to have a think about. Stock picture
The weekly food bill is something that that most families are going to have to have a think about. Stock picture

The Jones: This is an area of the budget that most families are going to have to have a think about.

There are simple tips and tricks that Amanda and Michael can use to cut the cost. Looking at value ranges is a start and there are plenty of other options too.

If they also decide that takeaways and restaurant trips will be saved for special occasions, this will save £55.64 per month.

The average monthly food bill for the Jones will be around £590.

The bad news is that petrol and diesel prices continue to climb. Stock picture
The bad news is that petrol and diesel prices continue to climb. Stock picture

Petrol

After the fiasco at the pumps last September when a shortage of HGV drivers left forecourts empty, you'd be forgiven for thinking 2022 would be a little easier for the motorist.

And the good news is that there's been no repeat of the panic buying. The bad news is that petrol and diesel prices have continued to climb.

What's more, the tensions between Russia and Ukraine may well see them surpass their current record highs.

According to the RAC, last month petrol hit a new high of 148.02p and diesel 152.6p. That makes filling a 55-litre family car to £81.41 for petrol and £84 for its diesel counterpart.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams explains: "With the oil price teetering on the brink of $100 a barrel and retailers keen to pass on the increase in wholesale fuel quickly, new records could now be set on a daily basis in the coming weeks.

"The oil price is rising due to tensions between Russia – the world’s third biggest oil producer – and Ukraine, along with oil production remaining out of kilter with demand as the world emerges from the pandemic. As a result drivers in the UK could be in for an even worse ride as pump prices look certain to go up even more."

Petrol and diesel prices have jumped. Joe Giddens/PA
Petrol and diesel prices have jumped. Joe Giddens/PA

The Jones: Between Amanda getting to work, the kids being chauffeured around and the weekly family shopping trip - the car gets used quite regularly.

Opting for a petrol car was a good start in keeping the cost down and the occasional day of working from home will help.

But given wholesale fuel prices have risen by 15% over the last two years, according to the RAC, and conflict in Ukraine could drive prices up even more.

However, the prices are notoriously volatile and history would suggest the prices start to drop sooner rather than later. Shopping around for the cheapest forecourt prices will be key to the Jones' keeping costs nailed down - as well as pondering whether that extra trip to the supermarket is worth the cost of getting there.

Can the purse afford that extra trip to the supermarket? Stock picture
Can the purse afford that extra trip to the supermarket? Stock picture

Rail fares

A huge £14 billion of taxpayers' money was spent on keeping the railways running as overnight millions of people stopped using the trains.

With working from home becoming the norm and it being easier to isolate in the comfort of your own car, the return to Southeastern has been slow.

In December, commuters faced the steepest rise in rail fares since January 2013 at 3.8%.

With Kent so close to the capital, a daily commute is a common choice option for people who want London salaries.

It's yet to be seen what the long term affect of the pandemic will have on those making the journey into London everyday, but the Kings Ferry service which once took thousands of people in to the city has already been axed because the numbers fell.

Michael commutes to London three times a week. Stock picture
Michael commutes to London three times a week. Stock picture

The Jones' - Michael is one of the millions of people who has changed his work life balance since the end of the pandemic.

Two days a week he works from home, allowing him to take the girls to school and be home to put the dinner on before Amanda gets in.

His ticket will let him use either Folkestone Central or Folkestone West and takes him straight to London Bridge.

This currently costs him £568 every month. But from March this will be an extra £20 a month to £589.58.

He might have to drop Starbucks for a packed lunch to make up the difference.

The family spends a lot of money every month with child care and after school club. Stock picture
The family spends a lot of money every month with child care and after school club. Stock picture

Childcare

While parents work all the hours they can to cover the cost of living, the children need to go somewhere.

Before they are old enough to start school, working parents often have to rely on kind friends or family.

But for those who don't have that option they need to rely on childcare - which also costs money.

Some two-year-olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare or early education for 38 weeks of the year if you receive certain benefits as explained on the government website.

For everyone else, MoneyHelper.org.uk suggests the average cost of childcare is £263 per week for 50 hours and £138 if you only want 25 hours.

Once they turn three, parents can claim 570 hours of free childcare a year until they start school. This is usually taken at up to 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year and can be used in school term time or throughout the holidays too. Local childcare providers can help with this when you inquire.

Working parents can get another 15 hours a week if you earn a minimum of £142 per week and less than £100,000 a year.

This applies to both couples, so if one parent earns more than £99,999 or doesn't work - they will only get 15 free hours.

However, MoneySavingExpert warns that a lack of funding for childcare providers means they sometimes have to rely on parents to contribute to help with food and nappies etc.

And while there are no current government plans to raise the cost, inflation is likely to be factored in to what the nurseries can afford to offer parents.

The family also needs to use an after school club which is on average £62 a week. Stock picture
The family also needs to use an after school club which is on average £62 a week. Stock picture

The Jones': With both Amanda and Michael working full time they have no choice but to send Harry to nursery five days a week.

A combination of working from home and helpful neighbours and grandparents gives them the occasional few hours back, they have to plan to spend the full 50 hours a week into their budget.

This is £1,052 per month.

On days when both are working late, Charlotte also needs to use an after school club which is on average £62 a week.

On childcare alone, the maximum the Jones' currently have to fork out each month is £1,300.

While things should start out at a similar price this year, nurseries will be subject to the same rise in the cost of energy and food which may fall on the parents.

If inflation hits 7% in April, this could add up to £1,171.14 per month.

The Jones' are the average family in Kent and may have to miss out on basic luxuries. Stock picture
The Jones' are the average family in Kent and may have to miss out on basic luxuries. Stock picture

Looking at the most basic of outgoings for the average family in Kent leaves them around £231 worse off from April.

This is without the new school uniform, the swimming lessons and the occasional bottle of wine at the end of a hard working week.

The Jones' are the average family in Kent and will have to miss out on basic luxuries.

For those who earn less, the outlook is far more bleak with the use of food banks already on the rise.

Help is at hand with the council tax rebate and some benefits on offer.

There is also some helpful advice and people out there including Citzen's Advice Bureau and Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert website to name a few.

But it's got to the point where cancelling your Netflix subscription won't be enough and something needs to be done.

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