According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), about 3.8 million low-income households are estimated to have outstanding household bills.
The foundation said about 950,000 are considered rent arrears, with 1.4 million behind on council tax bills and 1.4 million on electricity and gas bills.
This looked at the bottom 40% of households in the UK with a household income of £24,752 or less. This represents about 11.6 million households.
JRF said the findings suggest that a third (33%) of low-income households now owe – triple the 11% estimated by a similar study before the coronavirus pandemic.
Low-income working-age households, including those between the ages of 18 and 64, were found to be particularly hard hit, with 44% of whom were deemed arrears.
Millions of low-income families are facing debt crisis
For households aged 18 to 24, this rises to nearly three-quarters (71%) of those with arrears.
JRF said the findings show a clear indication that the pandemic has dragged families that were earlier only about managing dues on essential bills.
It states that families with children, families London households where the person surveyed was under the age of 45, and was black, Asian And minority ethnic families were particularly likely to be drawn into the dues.
Most households (87%) who are behind on their household bills said they were always or often able to pay all their bills in full and on time before the pandemic hit.
The report said that before energy prices began to rise recently, six in 10 low-income households (62%) reported that their costs had increased during the pandemic.
About 4.4 million low-income households have taken on new or increased borrowing – and seven out of 10 (69%) households with new or increased borrowing are also outstanding.
Many low-income families still struggle with the £20-a-week cut universal credit JRF said.
Of the surveyed households that receive Universal Credit, 40% are not sure they will be able to pay their bills in full and on time, while 35% do not think they will be able to avoid taking on more debt.
Half of these (50%) households say they do not believe they can find a job or work more hours.
Millions of households look very precarious as we head into even tougher seas with costs and rising household debt
JRF is requesting Government To restore £20 in Universal Credit and recommended that the government provide at least £500 million in additional grant funding through the Domestic Support Fund for targeted debt relief.
Katie Schmucker, deputy director of policy and partnerships at JRF, said: “Millions of low-income households are facing a debt crisis.
“The parents behind these figures are plagued with anxiety, wondering how they will put food on their kids’ plates and pay the gas bill; Young people were forced to rely on friends to cover their rent and help them avoid eviction.
“While many families with higher incomes have enjoyed increased savings and rising house prices during the pandemic, those with lower incomes are under severe financial pressure that shows no signs of easing.
“As a society, we believe in protecting each other from harm. As costs mount and incomes are cut, we urgently need to reconsider support for people in sharp end of life crisis. “
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “These findings are a warning of a storm. Millions of families look very precarious as we head into even tougher seas with costs and rising household debt.”
She added: “Real investment in children and their families will also require restoring the value of children’s benefits, more assistance with childcare costs, and the expansion of expanded schools.”
Between September 24 and October 5, more than 4,100 people were surveyed in households with the lowest 40% household income.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We know that the best path toward financial independence is with well-paid work, which is why our multi-billion-pound plan Jobs Helping to increase skills and opportunities, while Universal Credit continues to provide an important safety net for millions of people.
“The Household Assistance Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs during this winter, and is distributed by councils, who are in the best position to ensure that those in need are identified in their local areas. and support them at the earliest.”