More than three million people fear they will miss their rent or mortgage payments this month as the cost of Christmas takes its toll, according to a charity.

Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, says that one in nine people surveyed who pay either rent or a mortgage are worried about being able to pay their housing costs this month. See's Budget planner to analyse your finances and help you manage your cash.

If these figures are projected across Britain, around 3.2 million people could share the same fear.

Shelter says it has seen a surge in the number of people visiting its website for advice on rent and mortgage arrears, and is urging anyone having difficulty meeting their housing costs to get help as early as possible.

Worryingly, it found that 26% of people surveyed said they would feel too ashamed to ask for help if struggling with housing payments.

Of the 2,300 people polled in November, 59% said they were already struggling to keep up with the bills.

The charity has highlighted the case of a mother-of-two called Katharine from Yorkshire, who works unpredictable hours and fears she will not be able to meet her rent payments each month.

Katharine says: "I work every hour I can to support my family. But each month I wonder if I'm going to able to make my rent, and I'm expecting things to be especially bad after Christmas – even though we cut back on spending as much as we could.

"I've borrowed money from family and even had to stop paying bills to keep the roof over my children's heads. It's horrible to start another year not knowing if I can afford to keep my home."

Nadeem Khan, a helpline adviser for Shelter, says: "I spoke to a lady recently who was sick with worry for months because she couldn't meet her mortgage payments and felt too ashamed to ask for help.

"When finally a court notice landed on her doorstep she came to us and we were able to help the family keep their home."

Shelter says that as well as seeking help, those who are struggling should always aim to make their mortgage or rent payments their "number one priority" and that they should take action to deal with any other debts such as credit cards and phone bills separately.

The charity adds it is also important to read all correspondence from a mortgage lender, landlord or letting agent and keep records of every letter and phone call involving these companies.