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Extra costs of office return set to shock millions

  • In late January, just over a third of adults (36%) worked from home at least one day a week. This is up on recent weeks, but down from 49% in the first lockdown.
  • Almost half said they spent less as a result (46%), and one in five said they spent more (18%).
  • 50% of people spent less on fuel and parking and 40% said they spent less on public transport.
  • The most common rise in spending was on utility bills – 86% said they’d spent more on that.
  • One in four said they spent more on internet connections (24%).
  • A third (34%) said they spent less on food when homeworking and a third said they spent more (33%).

The ONS published an article on spending and homeworking for January: Homeworking and spending during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Great Britain – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst. Hargreaves Lansdown:

“The cost-of-living crisis is going to hit even harder when we go back into the workplace. About one in three people were working from home at least one day a week in late January, which has cushioned the blow of some price rises. Around half of them have noticed their spending has dropped, but millions of people have no idea that homeworking could be saving them money, so they could be in for a nasty shock when they go back to the office.

There are always some exceptions to the rule, but on average, working from home is cheaper. If you heat the house all day, you’ll hike up your heating bill, but you’ll be saving on the commute, eating out, paying for a work wardrobe, and picking up impulse purchases – which overall on average means your savings outweigh your extra costs. It’s one reason why the more people who work at home, the less we spend on debit and credit cards.

When you ask people about their spending, only half of them say they’re spending less, and a fifth say they are spending more. This may be due to some people underestimating the cost of the commute. While many people have been able to work from home, some of the costs of going to work have soared. Most strikingly, in the 12 months to December, petrol prices were up 27.8%, while the price of some kinds of parking was up 26.1%. Meanwhile, local cafes and restaurants are trying to make up lost ground after two years of disruption, while wrestling with staff costs and shortages, so they’re having to put their prices up too.

There’s also a chance we’re overestimating the relative costs of working from home. Millions of us are spending more on energy, because companies are massively hiking their prices. If people compare their costs now to their costs before the price rises, they might see the rise and blame homeworking. It’s much harder for them to compare their costs now to their costs if they were back in the workplace, because they’re yet to experience it.

It’s also easier to feel costs when they are bundled together, which means we might be overestimating the cost of things like food. When absolutely everything you eat and drink is wrapped up in the weekly food shop, you notice the rise in that price more than you notice £5 here and there you save from not buying lunch or coffee when you’re at work.

There are plenty of people who have been desperate to return to the office, for whom any extra cost is a price worth paying. But before you get back to the workplace, go back to your budget and work out how you will afford the extra costs.”

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