Skip to content

Chapter 1: Overview This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 11 December 2013 Download PDF

Key Points

This chapter presents the key findings of the 2012 Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF). The chapter provides an overview of household income and expenditure. The overview covers expenditure in 2012; trends in spending over time; expenditure in different areas of the UK; expenditure by income group; and ownership of home computers and access to the internet at home. These topics are explored in more depth in other parts of the publication. Links are provided to the sections of Family Spending that contain the detailed coverage:

  • Total average weekly household expenditure was £489.00 in 2012.

  • Housing (net), fuel and power became the category with the highest average spending in 2012, at £68.00 per week, ahead of transport. This category includes: housing rental payments, fuel and electricity for the home, and housing maintenance and repair. It does not include mortgage payments. “Net” rent refers to the amount spent on rent after removing housing benefit and related allowances.

  • This is the first year, since the current method for recording expenditure was introduced in 2001, that housing (net), fuel and power has been the highest spending category.

  • Average spending has decreased between 2006 and 2012 once the figures have been adjusted to allow for changes in prices (inflation).

  • Households in London spend the most, while those in the North East spend the least.

  • Expenditure in rural areas is higher than in urban areas.

Spending is presented using Classification Of Individual COnsumption by Purpose (COICOP)1 categories, unless stated otherwise. COICOP is an internationally-recognised classification system consistent with that used by UK National Accounts.

Notes for Key Points

  1. From 2001, the Classification Of  Individual COnsumption by Purpose (COICOP) was introduced as a new coding frame for expenditure items. COICOP is the internationally agreed classification system for reporting household consumption expenditure. Total expenditure is made up from the total of the COICOP expenditure groups (1 to 12) plus ‘Other expenditure items (13)’. Other expenditure items are those items excluded from the narrower COICOP classifications, such as mortgage interest payments, council tax, domestic rates, holiday spending, cash gifts and charitable donations.  


Household Expenditure in 2012

Table 1.1 shows average weekly household expenditure in the United Kingdom (UK) by the 12 COICOP categories. In 2012, average weekly household expenditure in the UK was £489.00.

Table 1.1 - Average household expenditure by COICOP category and total, 2012

COICOP category  £ per week
Housing (net)1, fuel and power 68.00
Transport  64.10
Recreation and culture 61.50
Food and non-alcoholic drinks 56.80
Restaurants and hotels 40.50
Miscellaneous goods and services 38.40
Household goods and services 28.50
Clothing and footwear 23.40
Communication 13.80
Alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics 12.60
Education 6.80
Health 6.40
Total COICOP expenditure  420.70
Other expenditure items 68.30
Total expenditure  489.00

Table source: Office for National Statistics

Table notes:

  1. Excluding mortgage interest payments, council tax and NI rates.
  2. Totals may not add up due to the independent rounding of component categories.

Download table

As seen in Table 1.1 housing (net), fuel and power (excluding mortgages) was the highest expenditure COICOP category, at £68.00 per week; this represents 14 per cent of total expenditure. The next two highest categories were transport (£64.10) and recreation and culture (£61.50). Average weekly expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2012 was £56.80. A full breakdown of spending by detailed category can be found in Table A1 (186 Kb Excel sheet) .

Average weekly household expenditure in the housing (net), fuel and power category in 2012 was made up of:

  • net rent: £29.30 per week;

  • fuel and electricity: £23.20;

  • maintenance and repairs: £7.00;

  • water supply and miscellaneous charges (such as refuse collection): £8.40.

Note: unless otherwise stated, spending figures are averaged across all households. This means, for example, that average weekly expenditure on rent is averaged across all households, whether or not they pay rent.

The COICOP category housing (net), fuel and power does not include all the different types of housing-related expenses, for example, mortgage payments are excluded. This is because COICOP is based on the concept of “consumption expenditure”, and mortgage payments are not considered to fall within this definition.  However, due to the high interest in the topic, Chapter 2 provides a detailed analysis of housing-related expenditure, including the items not included under COICOP.

Household expenditure on housing, including types of spending not included in the COICOP category, averaged £139.00 per week in 2012. This varies by the age of the household reference person (HRP)1 with households tending to spend more when the HRP was under 50. Households where the HRP is under 30 recorded spending on housing of £148.10 per week, and the figure was highest for the 30 – 49 age band at £195.80. Older age groups spent substantially less on housing.

The relatively high spending for households where the HRP is aged under 50 partly reflects the higher mortgage payments for this age group. Spending on mortgages peaks for the 30-49 age group at £84.60 per week; spending on rent peaks for the under 30 age group at £84.80 per week, averaged over all households.

Considering only households that do pay mortgages, average weekly expenditure on mortgages was £138.60, while spending on rent, only for households that rented their accommodation, averaged £136.00 per week. These are the only spending figures in Family Spending that are not averaged across all households.

Figure 1.1: Transport expenditure by selected items, 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 1.1: Transport expenditure by selected items, 2012
Source: Office for National Statistics

Download chart

Figure 1.1 shows that spending on petrol (£16.40), combined with diesel (£8.20) accounts for almost two fifths of the transport costs. Purchase of vehicles accounts for over a quarter of the weekly household transport expenditure (£17.20), with most of this going towards second-hand vehicles (£11.90). Transport spending also includes transport services such as rail fares, at £10.50 per week.

Figure 1.2 - Recreation & culture expenditure by selected items, 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 1.2 - Recreation & culture expenditure by selected items, 2012
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey - Office for National Statistics

Download chart

Expenditure within the recreation and culture category represents a broad range of goods and services. The recreational and cultural services sub category accounted for £19.80 per week, with the breakdown reflecting the wide range of choice available in this area, including:

  • sports admissions, subscriptions, leisure class fees and equipment hire (£5.80);

  • cinema, theatre and museums etc (£2.60);

  • TV subscriptions and licences (£6.70).

Expenditure on package holidays averaged £18.20 per week; this includes both domestic and foreign holidays.

Also within recreation and culture, an average of £4.60 per week was spent on pets and pet food, and £2.30 on games, toys and hobbies.

Notes for Household Expenditure in 2012

  1. From 2001/02 the concept of household reference person was adopted on all government surveys in place of head of household. It is defined on the basis of who owns the property; or who has the highest income; or who is the eldest.

Expenditure by Region

Three years’ data are combined when presenting spending figures broken down by region, to ensure the sample size is large enough to provide robust figures when below-UK levels of geography are considered. Detailed expenditure by region is shown in Table A35 (130 Kb Excel sheet) .

Figure 1.4: Household expenditure by region, 2010 to 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 1.4: Household expenditure by region, 2010 to 2012
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey - Office for National Statistics

Download chart

Combined over the years 2010-12, the average weekly household expenditure in the UK was £482.10. Four regions showed expenditure higher than the UK average, in descending order: London (£571.60), the South East (£561.30), the East (£511.30) and the South West (£502.30). At the opposite end of the scale, are the North East (£408.70), Wales (£411.30) and Yorkshire and The Humber (£422.70) with the lowest average spending. Spending by region is shown in Figure 1.4.

For the three-year period 2010-12, London was the highest spending region on housing (net), fuel and power (excluding mortgage payments) by a considerable margin, at £97.50 per week; this was a significant factor contributing to London households spending more than those in other parts of the UK. A major factor in this is the average expenditure on net rent (£59.10 per week), which was more than twice the amount of the region that spent the second highest amount on rent; the South East (£27.50). Expenditure on rent is averaged across all households, including those that don’t pay rent, so the higher rent figures for London reflect both the higher costs of rent, and the high proportion of householders who rent their accommodation.

The South East is the highest spending region on transport, at £80.20 per week, compared with £66.10 in London. Spending on transport by London households is influenced by the high numbers of people who make use of public transport. Interestingly, London is the only region, other than Northern Ireland, where expenditure on transport services, such as travel fares, is higher than on purchase of vehicles. For the UK as a whole, expenditure on the purchase of cars was almost double that on transport services, but in London, £22 per week on average was spent on transport services compared with £16.30 on purchase of vehicles. Notably, while 75 per cent of households in the UK owned a car or van in 2010-12 (see Table A48 (90 Kb Excel sheet) ), the figure was only 63 per cent for London households; 83 per cent of households in the South East owned a car or van.

Average weekly household expenditure was higher for households in rural areas (£531.20) than urban areas (£476.50) in 2012, as shown in Table A36 (72.5 Kb Excel sheet) . This difference was reflected across categories, with the exception of housing (net), fuel and power; spending on this category was higher in urban areas (£64.90) than rural areas (£62.10). The difference in spending was most notable in expenditure on transport, where expenditure by rural households averaged £81.60 per week compared with £60.10 for urban areas. This could be due to a number of factors, including the higher availability of public transport in urban areas, and the longer journeys that are often required in rural areas to access services and amenities1.

Notes for Expenditure by Region

  1. DEFRA publication


Figure 1.5: Household expenditure by gross income decile group, 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 1.5: Household expenditure by gross income decile group, 2012
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey - Office for National Statistics

Download chart

Figure 1.5 shows average household weekly expenditure, broken down by the gross income band of the household. Households have been ranked in ascending order of income and divided into ten equally-sized bands. The lowest earning ten per cent of households spent an average of £189.30 per week, while the highest earning ten per cent of households spent an average of £1065.60 per week.

Looking at spending patterns by total gross household income doesn’t tell the whole story. Households of different sizes, and with different numbers of adults and children, need different levels of income in order to maintain a comparable standard of living. Chapter 3 examines expenditure patterns after income is adjusted to account for different demands on resources, by considering the household size and composition; the analysis also uses disposable income rather than gross income. Overall, this process, known as equivalisation, somewhat reduces the differences in income between the highest and lowest earning households.

Households on lower incomes apportion their spending differently from those on higher incomes. For example, after adjusting income for household size and composition, food and non-alcoholic drink accounted for 16 per cent of spending for households with the lowest incomes; for the highest-earning households the figure was only 8 per cent. This reflects the necessity for all households to spend a certain amount on food and non-alcoholic drink, but, as income increases, there is a limit to how much households can consume or are willing to spend.

The opposite trend is seen for transport. Transport accounts for 14 per cent of the highest -earning households’ expenditure, but only 9 per cent of the lowest. The greater proportional spending on transport by higher-income households arises partly from spending more on buying and maintaining vehicles; the National Travel Survey (2012) noted that those on higher incomes tended to make more frequent and longer journeys.

Computer Ownership and Internet Connection at Home

Family Spending also includes information on ownership of consumer durables, including ownership of a home computer and having access to the internet at home.

Overall, 81 per cent of households have a home computer, and 79 per cent are connected to the internet at home. This figure varies considerably for different types of households. For example, computer ownership increases steadily as household income increases ( Table A46 (90 Kb Excel sheet) ). Nearly all of the households in the top ten per cent income bracket owned a computer (99 per cent); but fewer than half (49 per cent) of the lowest earning households did.

Other differences emerge when we examine ownership of home computers for different household compositions (see Figure 1.6). Households with children showed the highest levels of computer ownership: 98 per cent of households with two adults and two or more children, and 85 per cent of households with one adult and two or more children, had home computers. The situation is very different for retired households. Among retired households containing two adults, slightly more than half (53 per cent) owned a home computer, and the figure was much lower still for retired households containing one adult where less than one third (29 per cent) had a home computer. It should be noted that many retired households also have lower incomes.

Figure 1.6 - Percentage of households with home computer and internet connection by household composition, 2012

United Kingdom

Figure 1.6 - Percentage of households with home computer and internet connection by household composition, 2012
Source: Living Costs and Food Survey - Office for National Statistics

Download chart

Clearly, the relatively high proportion of all households with a home computer masks the fact that ownership is far lower among low income households and retired households. However, these types of households have been closing the gap in recent years. In 2011, for example, 39 per cent of retired households with two adults owned a home computer, 14 percentage points lower than in 2012.

The households with the lowest incomes have also closed the gap with higher-earning households in recent years. The figure of 49 per cent of households with a home computer in 2012 compares with 46 per cent in 2011, and 38 per cent in 2009.

Society increasingly utilises the internet to share information and provide services. In this context it is important to note that not all households own a home computer or have access to the internet at home. In addition levels of ownership vary notably for different types of household: retired and low income households are far less likely than average to have access to the internet at home. However, households in these groups have caught up to some extent in recent years.


Background notes

  1. Symbols and conventions used in Family Spending 2013 edition

    [ ] Figures should be used with extra caution because they are based on fewer than 20 reporting households.

    .. The data is suppressed if the unweighted sample counts are less than 10 reporting households.

    -  No figures are available because there are no reporting households.

    Rounding: Individual figures have been rounded independently. The sum of component items does not therefore necessarily add to the totals shown.

    Averages: These are averages (means) for all households included in the column or row, and unless specified, are not restricted to those households reporting expenditure on a particular item or income of a particular type.

    Period covered: Calendar year 2012 (1 January 2012 to 31 December 2012).

  2. Contacts

    For information about the content of this publication, contact ONS Social Surveys Data Advice and Relations Team.

    Tel: +44 (0)1633 455678


    Other customer enquiries

    ONS Customer Contact Centre
    Tel: 0845 601 3034
    International: +44 (0)1633 653 599
    Minicom: +44 (0)1633 815044
    Fax: +44 (0)1633 652747

    Post: Room 1.101, Government Buildings,
    Cardiff Road, Newport, South Wales NP10 8XG

  3. Media enquiries

    Tel: +44 (0)845 604 1858

  4. Editor

    Giles Horsfield

  5. A National Statistics publication

    National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They are produced free from political influence.

    About us

    The Office for National Statistics

    The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority, a non-ministerial department which reports directly to Parliament. ONS is the UK government’s single largest statistical producer. It compiles information about the UK’s society and economy, and provides the evidence-base for policy and decision-making, the allocation of resources, and public accountability. The Director-General of ONS reports directly to the National Statistician who is the Authority's Chief Executive and the Head of the Government Statistical Service.

    The Government Statistical Service

    The Government Statistical Service (GSS) is a network of professional statisticians and their staff operating both within the Office for National Statistics and across more than 30 other government departments and agencies.

  6. Copyright and reproduction

    © Crown copyright 2013

    Under the terms of the Open Government Licence and UK Government Licensing Framework, anyone wishing to use or re-use ONS material, whether commercially or privately, may do so freely without a specific application for a licence, subject to the conditions of the OGL and the Framework.

    For further information, contact the Office of Public Sector Information, Crown Copyright Licensing and Public Sector Information, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU.

    Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444


    ISSN 2040-1647

  7. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.