Much is heard about the travails of 'hardworking families' – but it is those on their own who often pay over the odds
If you listen to politicians and certain parts of the media, you'd think only "hardworking families" were affected by the rising cost of living, hikes in energy bills and extortionate housing costs. If you dare to live alone you don't get a mention.
But, contrary to popular belief, being romantically unattached and child free isn't cheap. Arguably, single people contribute more to society than everyone else, but get less back in terms of tax credits, child benefit and tax breaks.
Worse still, single people are penalised in numerous ways, some more obvious than others. Of course it costs more to live alone rather than splitting the cost of a mortgage or rent and bills with a partner. But singles also pay more than couples for everything from flights to insurance.
If you are willing to fork out your hard-earned cash for a seat at the theatre, you would think the box office would be keen to accept your money – but think again. Some venues and ticketing websites refuse to sell single tickets to shows if all the remaining seats are in pairs.
Actor Matthew Field, 47, wanted to spend a Ticketmaster gift voucher he received for his birthday on a solo trip to see The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's West End earlier this year.
But when he tried to buy a ticket for the play, which starred Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, Ticketmaster refused his custom as all the available seats were in pairs.
Field says: "I complained and Ticketmaster was dismissive and blamed the theatre. I felt disappointed, angry and frustrated. The tickets were advertised as single tickets, so I feel discriminated against as a single person because I wasn't allowed to buy one."
Ticketmaster says it is possible to buy single tickets for events, but restrictions are imposed when there are only a few left. It won't allow a single unsold seat to be left on its own, meaning if the only remaining seats are in pairs, singletons can't buy just one.
Many other ticketing websites work in the same way. For example, if you want to buy a single ticket to the latest star-studded West End hit Mojo, and you log on to the website of theatre specialist ATG Tickets, you will find that if you click on a seat that forms part of an isolated pair, the site won't allow you to buy just one, and you will be told to try again.
EasyJet's latest flight sale is certainly tempting. In January you can go from London Stansted to Malaga for £30.49 or Bilbao for £28.49. But these prices don't apply if you're travelling alone – the small print states that "prices shown are based on two people flying on the same booking". Solo travellers will pay a minimum of £35.99 for Malaga or £33.99 for Bilbao.
An easyJet spokesperson blamed the price difference on budget airlines being forced to include booking fees in advertised prices. "Customers pay a seat price and an administration fee per booking. The booking fee is a flat fee per booking and so gets divided by the number of seats being booked and then gets added to the seat price. Prices will clearly be slightly different based on the number of flights booked at the same time, because the administration fee is flat per booking."
Couples working out at the same gym can often get a discount on their membership – while singles pay the advertised price.
Take Virgin Active in Chelmsford, Essex. A "full flexi monthly" membership costs £65 a month. But members can add another person living at the same address, and paying from the same account, for just £47 a month. This means the couple pay £112 between them, or £56 a month each. This is £9 less than a single person using the same facilities.
It's a similar story at David Lloyd in Beckenham, Kent. One person would pay £105 a month for peak membership, but a couple joining together would pay £92 a month each, £13 less.
The dreaded "single supplement" is the bane of the single traveller's life. Hotels and travel agents add on this charge when one person occupies a room that could accommodate two.
If you're single and fancy a bargain package holiday, you may as well forget it: the cheap prices advertised are invariably for couples and families. A quick search on Thomas Cook shows a couple can head to Benidorm for a week for £159 each; a single person would have to pay £270.
Some hotels do offer cheaper single rooms but many don't, as Elaine Clark, a 49-year-old accountant, found when she wanted to stay at a particular hotel in Bath for a weekend. She went with a friend but they wanted separate rooms so had to pay £150 per room per night each – the same price a couple would have paid. This included breakfast for two, and the hotel refused to negotiate a discount for feeding just one person.
"It was a choice between saying no to the fabulous, centrally located establishment or finding someone that catered for singles," says Clark. "Having recently booked a single room in a 'corporate'-type hotel, and being shoved into a broom cupboard-type room at the back, I prefer to pay the extra and be treated like a normal person – the price of being single."
Marriage tax breaks
September saw the announcement of a marriage tax allowance. From April 2015 married couples and those in civil partnerships will be allowed to transfer £1,000 of their personal tax allowance to their spouse or civil partner.
The tax break applies if couples are both basic rate taxpayers with one earning less than the personal allowance – the amount of income you can receive each year without having to pay tax on it. This will be just over £10,000 in 2015. Most couples who benefit will be up to £200 a year better off.
Couples also benefit from inheritance tax rules. Married couples and civil partners are allowed to pass their possessions and assets to each other tax-free and, since October 2007, the surviving partner has been allowed to use both tax-free allowances, providing one wasn't used at the first death.
Singles leaving behind an estate worth more than £325,000 will saddle beneficiaries with a 40% tax bill on anything over this.
Insurance companies bump up the cost of cover for single people, supposedly because the unattached are higher risk.
Comparison site Confused.com says the average annual cost of a comprehensive policy for a single woman stands at £841. Those that add on a spouse pay much less – only £406 a year on average. Married men pay an average of £410 but singles more than twice the amount at £852.
Confused says married couples are considered less likely to claim because they are seen as having nights in at home with their cars safely parked outside. Singles, meanwhile, are viewed as being out on the town, with their cars in tow, parked who knows where.
Deals such as Orange Wednesdays, offered to EE and Orange mobile and broadband customers, offer two tickets for the price of one. However, there's no discount for someone wanting to see a film alone.
Single parents also feel hard done by when it comes to some discounted family tickets.
Sara Faulkner, 45, who has an 11-year-old son, says: "I think it's ridiculous that I can't get a discount at my local cinema because I'm not part of a couple. The family ticket allows a discount for two adults plus two or three children. However, a single parent with a child does not qualify. Just another example of discrimination."