21 Dec 2023

The great British thermo-spat! Emotions over energy bills heat up as winter kicks in

  • 32% of couples have already argued over the heating and one in four have switched it on behind their partner’s back
  • But Brits are striving to keep heating costs down through extra layers, hot water bottles, blankets and thick socks
  • Nationwide encourages anyone struggling with finances to talk to their financial services provider as soon as possible
  • Britain’s biggest building society runs a dedicated cost-of-living hotline for those worried or struggling (0800 030 40 66)

As the UK officially enters winter on Friday, households are once again faced with the dilemma of when to switch on the heating. But with the high cost of energy, many households are engaging in a ‘thermo-spat’, with one in three (32%) couples having already bickered over who controls the heat, according to a poll from Nationwide.

More than four in ten (42%) people have admitted to putting on the heating behind their partners’ backs, and with the Met Office forecasting a Christmas cold snap this week, the ‘thermo-spat’ is likely to heat up. The poll also highlights that just over a third (36%) of households never reach an agreed consensus on the right temperature, meaning it could be a long winter for many.

Nationwide conducted the poll of more than 2,000 respondents with winter on its way and at a time when the cost of living remains a major concern for many, particularly high energy prices. Britain’s biggest building society has a dedicated cost-of-living hotline (0800 030 40 66) and has urged customers worried about their finances or those struggling to contact them as early as they can (see more below).

Mandy Beech, Director of Retail Services at Nationwide Building Society, said: “We all have differences of opinion over when the heating should go on or go up, but the continued high cost of energy means that this has become a real issue for a larger proportion of us. While some will be able to juggle the extra costs, for those who are worried or struggling with rising costs, help is available. Our cost-of-living hotline was set up to respond to worries our customers might have and where necessary to help them get back on track. We would urge anyone with concerns to get in touch with their financial services provider for support sooner rather than later.”

In a nation known for unpredictable weather, Brits are adept keeping warm on a budget. From the classic hot water bottle snuggle (opted for by 22% of people on a budget), to the creative use of extra layers (jumpers worn by 55%, thick socks: 41% and blankets: 54%), households have long mastered the art of staving off the cold without breaking the bank.

However, while a small number held off putting the heating on until the start of December (3%), almost eight in ten (78%) did so before. Of those managing to resist, more than a quarter (27%) say it’s because they can’t afford the bill, and more than half (51%) are waiting it out until absolutely necessary in order to save money.

According to the poll, the average ideal temperature for a home at this time of year is 20 degrees (23%). And for those who prefer it hotter or colder, nine per cent think it should be a sweltering 24 or more degrees. While five per cent think the ideal temperature should be a cool 17 degrees.

Regionally there is also some variation in the ideal temperature, with Brighton liking it toasty at 22 degrees (16%) but Bristol preferring it at 18 degrees (16%) and Glasgow right in the middle at 20 degrees (19%) with the rest of the nation.

Nationwide’s cost-of-living hotline (0800 030 40 66) was launched last August. It is supported by dedicated, trained experts based across the Society’s main branches. It is available from 9am-4.30pm weekdays and 9am-12pm Saturdays. Nationwide aims to answer calls within ten minutes.  

All frontline colleagues have been providing cost-of-living help for members, whether in branch or on the telephone, while trained cost-of-living experts offer face-to-face, telephone and video appointments.  Anyone in financial hardship should contact their bank or building society for support. See more at Cost of living | Nationwide

Notes to editors

Research conducted by Censuswide on a poll of 2,000 adults in the UK.