A Covid Christmas could help take financial pressure off people, personal finance expert Martin Lewis has said as group restrictions could lead to people buying fewer unnecessary presents.
The Money Saving Expert founder said the festive period was one of the “biggest causes of debt and misery” in the UK as people felt huge pressure to overstretch their finances.
However, he said coronavirus meant people would most likely spend the festive period in smaller family groups, which could cut down on buying unwanted gifts for people due to the pressure to feel reciprocal.
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Mr Lewis said he had previously asked the Archbishop of Canterbury how he felt about “being in charge of a festival that was one of the biggest causes of debt and misery in the country”, adding it was a “bloody disaster” for people’s finances.
He said: “Is it (Covid) going to impact the festive season? Well, yes if you are visiting fewer people, seeing fewer people, buying fewer presents, having smaller dinners and lunches.
“In terms of the economy it will be a hit if we have a Covid Christmas. In terms of people’s personal finances, it might just take the pressure off people.”
The Government’s rule of six for meetings has raised the spectre of families celebrating a Christmas in smaller groups of immediate relatives. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is determined to ‘save Christmas’ by improving access to Covid tests to help lift social restrictions. However, government advisors are warning of a resurgence of the virus as the weather grows colder.
Meanwhile, Mr Lewis said the biggest personal finance issue to come out of the pandemic was the fact millions of people were still waiting refunds for holidays and events.
He said this has become such a widespread issue as it is acting as a “blocker” consumers regaining confidence to start spending again.
“If I pay for something will I get my money back or will it be a huge stress and hassle to get my money back?” said Mr Lewis. “I think that puts a huge blocker on consumer confidence.
“We need to look at the laws of insolvency or escrow accounts for money paid or whatever it is. But we need to be creative to give people confidence back without costing the state too much money to back it up.”
Mr Lewis was speaking as on Monday he launches a new energy bill auto-comparison and switching service, called MSE Autoswitch, to take on the big energy providers
The service allows users to input their details and it will automatically switch them onto a cheaper energy tariff, and then automatically find the new cheapest deal every year.
Mr Lewis said he had spent three years setting up the service due to his frustration at seeing people waste hundreds of pounds every year on standard tariffs because they found deal-hunting in the energy sector too complex or intimidating.
The personal finance expert estimated the average person on a standard tariff was paying around £250 a year more than they needed.
He said: “There are struggling 85-year-olds out there who do not understand the system and pay more to boil a kettle than I do - and I find that a problem.
“The energy system is the easiest way to save big money: 11 million people are on big six energy tariffs and they are simply taking a wad of pound notes and lighting them. I find it really frustrating.”