The tax on being single

A single person spends about £1,851 a month on household bills, compared to £991 for those who are coupled up

Woman on a sofa looking at her phone
Many memberships offer discounts for couples
(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

Politicians regularly talk about helping hard-working families, but where does this leave single people? 

There is a single stereotype of a "freewheeling young cohort", wrote Nesrine Malik in The Guardian, but the cost-of-living crisis and high housing costs actually means there is "less leisure time and less choice" than ever in being single. 

From shopping to travel and tax, single people face extra costs amounting to thousands of pounds each year because they aren't coupled up. 

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A single person or someone living alone is unable to split the cost of large expenses and household bills. The "single supplement", said campaigner and journalist Nicola Slawson in the i newspaper, is the "extra cost that single people incur because they aren't buying things in pairs". 

According to analysis from financial services provider Hargreaves Lansdown, a single person spends about £1,851 on monthly household bills, compared to just £991 if you're one half of a couple. 

Becoming single following a relationship breakdown "increases the risk of very deep poverty", said the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, "especially for parents". 

Plenty of people will have chosen the freedom and opportunity presented by the single life, said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sarah Coles in Yahoo Finance. But millions – including single-parent families – have had little say in the matter, which makes the so-called single-person tax feel "particularly cruel". 

Car insurance

Insuring your car can be more expensive if you are single, said Good Housekeeping, "as some insurers believe single people are at higher risk of getting into an accident".

It may be worth adding as a named driver as long as they "genuinely use the car".      

Housing

The "lion's share" of the single-person tax, said Coles, comes down to rent or mortgage payments. 

"While a couple may need exactly the same number of bedrooms as a single person", she said, "they can split the cost between them".  

Residential rents in August jumped by "12% on average", said the Financial Times, citing the estate agent Hamptons. As this is the "largest annual increase on record", shouldering the cost of housing on your own can be a big burden. 

These high costs mean single people are often at the "sharp end of the increasingly unhinged private rental market", added Malik, with single people half as likely to get on the housing ladder as 30 years ago. 

Leisure time

Everything from Netflix subscriptions to membership of the National Trust is cheaper if you live with someone else and can share the cost, said Slawson. 

Individual membership of the National Trust costs £84 a year, while a joint membership costs £139.20. This means a couple would pay £69.60 per person, £14.40 less than a single person. 

Some gyms offer discounted memberships if you sign up with a partner, said Which?, and many other types of memberships offer couples discounts, too. 

Couples can also take advantage of a Two Together railcard, which cuts the cost of travel by a third on off-peak. It costs £30 a year.  

Shopping

It can cost more to buy your groceries if you are single.  

Singletons face higher bills at supermarket tills, said the Daily Mail, simply because they are shopping for one, and not two or more. 

Items sold in packets of one remain a rarity, said the newspaper, with everything from pitta breads to toilet rolls coming in twos or more. Buying a whole chicken – weighing in at 1.4kg – from Morrisons costs £4.25. Two chicken breasts weighing 485g cost exactly the same price, for nearly a kilogram less meat. 

One way around these higher costs is bulk-buying certain items and preparing meals in advance in batches, said PensionBee. This approach will help to reduce food waste and save time and "save money on any spontaneous trips to the shop". 

Holidays

Solo travellers are also routinely paying over the odds for package holidays, cruises and coach holidays, said Which? Travel.  

With a traditional package holiday, tour operators charter an aircraft and book a set number of double rooms in a resort to fill it. 

The extra charge is intended to reflect a premium for occupying a double room alone, however, some argue it is unfair for single people.  

Tax

There are several tax benefits to being in a couple, said Which?, usually reserved for those who are either married or in a civil partnership. 

Married couples and civil partners can use the marriage allowance, which lets one partner reduce their tax bill by transferring £1,260 of their personal allowance to their spouse. 

Inheritance tax laws also favour married couples, letting spouses make use of each other's tax allowances without the need for special tax planning, while capital gains tax can also be reduced by transferring assets into joint names.  

Savings

The extra costs that single people face, Coles warned, means it can be hard to put cash aside for emergency savings or even for retirement. 

"Even if you're single-handedly keeping the wolf from the door, " said Coles, "there's a real risk you're building up financial problems in later life". 

Given that you can't share assets and take advantage of another person's allowance, Coles added, "it's even more valuable to use things like ISAs, which are tax free". 

The single supplement could be a particular problem for when you retire. 

A single person may need £23,300 to spend a year to have just a "moderate" retirement compared with £34,000 for a couple, according to the Pension and Lifetime Savings Association. 

It means a single person is likely to have to save more in order to fund their retirement when compared with couples.   

How to tackle the single-person tax

There are some ways in which single people are "supposedly supported", said HuffPost. For example, a single person can get a 25% reduction on their council tax bill, although "many are questioning why this discount isn't 50%". 

As a solo traveller, said Saga, the range of holidays that don't have single supplements is improving all the time. "Tour operators can arrange bespoke packages using seats on low-cost airlines and bed banks, " making it easier to find single rooms and pass on savings. 

There are also joint discounts you can take advantage of without being in a couple, said The Guardian, such as the Two Together railcard. "You don't actually have to be in a couple to take advantage of it, " said the newspaper, "but you do have to know another adult you can travel with." 

Most gyms don't require any kind of proof of couple status when you join up together, added Coles, so you could join with anyone else. 

It still doesn't make financial life fair when you're single, said Coles, but "it's worth trying for the odd win along the way".  

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist, specialising in business, property and personal finance. He has a master’s degree in financial journalism from City University and has previously written for FT Adviser, This Is Money, the Mail on Sunday and MoneyWeek.

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