One in five householders in the South West are struggling to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments – double the number a year ago – a charity has warned.
Research conducted by YouGov and Shelter showed the number of rent or mortgage payers in the region battling to pay the bills had risen from 11% in December 2011 to 22% in the same month in 2012. It means more than 700,000 people across the South West are starting the New Year facing a monthly battle to keep a roof over their heads.
Shelter also estimated that almost one million people nationally took out a payday loan in the last 12 months to help them cover their mortgage or rent.
Campbell Robb, Shelter's chief executive, said: "It's shocking to think that so many families in the South West will be starting the New Year with a huge weight hanging over them, trapped in a daily struggle to keep their home.
"Short-term credit may seem like a quick fix. However, with the huge interest charges, things can quickly spiral out of control, leaving people with vast debts they simply can't pay back.
"It's vital that anyone who's having difficulty paying their rent or mortgage gets advice now. Don't wait until things reach breaking point later in the year – it could leave your family's home at risk."
The charity said that the number of people constantly struggling to pay their rent or mortgage had increased by 44% in the past year.
A fifth of those surveyed, equating to 7.8 million Britons, were facing a monthly battle to keep a roof over their heads.
Some 4% of rent or mortgage payers said they had fallen behind with their payments, which would be 1.4 million people at a national level.
Around 7% of those surveyed said they used an unauthorised overdraft to help them cover their costs, and one in ten of these people said they did so every month.
Just over 2% said they had taken out a high-interest payday loan for this purpose, equating to around 979,000 people if the figures were projected nationally. Rents have soared over the last year as tenants have remained trapped in the rental sector, because they have been unable to meet lenders' toughened criteria or raise the typical 20% deposit needed.
More than a million homeowners also saw their mortgage costs increase in recent months after several lenders raised their standard variable rates.
Households are set to come under further pressure this winter from soaring energy bills, following a string of price hikes by companies.
Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders have shown that despite the difficult economy, home repossessions have been much lower than expected, falling to their lowest level since 2007 in the third quarter of this year.
Shelter's research was taken from a survey of 4,000 people across Britain.