More than a third of people renting or with a mortgage in Britain expect to struggle to keep up with payments during 2014, a survey says.
The poll of about 3,600 people for homelessness charity Shelter suggests those with children are worst affected.
Some 70% of these say they are already finding it tough to keep up with payments or have fallen behind.
And one in 11 people say they fear they will not be able to meet their commitments this month.
Shelter commissioned YouGov to survey 4,085 adults – 3,675 of whom pay rent or mortgage in England, Wales or Scotland – during November last year. They were asked how they had been faring in paying their rent or mortgage and how they expected to fare in the New Year.
The charity also warned of a worrying “ostrich effect” of people being unable to face up to their financial difficulties.
A worrying one fifth of people, 18%, say they have deliberately not opened post in case it was a bill or late payment reminder.
One in eight (14%) people also admit to putting correspondence in the bin without opening it.
Liz Clare, a helpline adviser at Shelter, said: “We’re now seeing a stream of cases of families who’ve been unable to cope with mounting rent or mortgage bills and feel at breaking point.
“We all know how difficult it can be to face up to financial problems and we often hear from people who’ve been avoiding urgent post, but the reality is that not confronting it means things can spiral out of control.
‘Worrying start to 2014’
“One caller to the helpline arrived home to her rented flat to find the locks had been changed. She hadn’t realised that a court hearing had even taken place because she hadn’t felt able to open her post after falling into arrears with her rent.”
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, which helps a million people a year with housing problems, said that despite recent discussion of an economic recovery, a combination of high housing costs, wage freezes, and rising food and energy bills had created a “nightmare scenario” for many families.
He said: “It’s a worrying sign of the times that so many are starting the New Year worried about how they’ll pay their rent or mortgage in 2014.
“Unless they get help, some of the families struggling now could face the very real prospect of losing their home this year.”