A growing number of young people are failing to service their debt and missing other payments as the COVID-19 downturn drags on, and alarm bells should be ringing for policymakers, new research has found.

Young people, renters and people with a disability are particularly vulnerable to growing debt and other risky consumer behaviour, and are struggling to meet their financial obligations.

That’s according to a report from the Consumer Policy Research Centre, released on Thursday, called ‘Consumers and COVID-19: From Crisis to Recovery’.

The report looks at consumers’ behaviour in the six months since May as Australia sought to recover from the coronavirus crisis while harsh economic restrictions continued in Victoria.

Australians’ reliance on credit cards and buy-now-pay-later services grew over the period between May and October, researchers found.

About 36 per cent of renters and of people with a disability relied on credit cards or buy-now-pay-later in October, significantly higher than the 24 per cent for renters and 26 per cent for those with a disability in May.

The number was 31 per cent for the general Australian population in October.

Australians also took out personal loans at increasing rates throughout 2020.

That trend was particularly pronounced among young people. More than one in ten young people, or 11 per cent, reported taking out a loan in October, compared to four per cent of the general population.

Young people and renters were also far likelier to seek early access to their superannuation than the average Australian.

In September, 19 per cent of renters applied for access to their super. In October, the number was 16 per cent.

For the general Australian population, the number peaked at eight per cent in July, August and September, but fell to six per cent in October.

A growing proportion of young people have also had to seek assistance with credit costs and other household bills, and are increasingly missing payments.

The CPRC suggests that ongoing income support will be critical for those without work as the economy reopens.

If young people and other vulnerable consumer groups take out new loans to cover debts they are struggling to pay back, they could end up in crisis, the report argues.

The report is based on monthly qualitative research conducted by Roy Morgan Research.