Household spending on housing, fuel and power has overtaken transport for the first time in recent years, figures show.
Households spent an average of £68 a week last year on the category, which includes rent, fuel, electricity and maintenance but excludes mortgages, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The category required the highest spending by households, a rise likely to have been driven in part by increases in electricity and gas prices and an area where "there may be limited scope for many households to reduce consumption", the ONS added.
The cold winters of 2011 and 2012 also contributed to essential spending on heating.
The proportion of households renting has also risen in recent years, from 29% to 34%.
The increase in this category was in contrast to the general trend as most types of spending stayed relatively stable or decreased slightly over the period, the ONS said.
The latest Family Spending data shows that UK households spent £489 on average per week in 2012.
Once inflation is taken into account, average spending has decreased since 2006 when households spent £526.40.
The ONS said it was likely that motorists had responded to fuel price increases by reducing journeys while noting that spending on petrol (£16.40) combined with diesel (£8.20) accounted for almost two fifths of the transport costs.
It said fuel efficiency of vehicles had also improved and diesel engines had become more popular, enabling motorists to offset the impact of rising prices.
More on average was spent on second-hand cars and vans (£11.90 per week) than new cars and vans (£4.70 per week), while £10.50 was spent on transport services such as rail, tube and bus fares.
Households' third highest spending was on recreation and culture, including televisions, computers, newspapers, books and leisure activities, at an average weekly amount of £61.50.
The category also includes package holidays abroad, with an average weekly spend of £16.80 per week.
Average weekly spending on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2012 was £56.80, £15.00 of which was spent on meat and fish, £4.20 on fresh vegetables and £3.20 on fresh fruit.
Spending on clothing and footwear increased from £15.30 per week in 2001/2002 to £23.40 in 2012, adjusted for inflation, despite the overall drop in the price of clothing.
Spending on hotels and restaurants decreased from £47.50 per week in 2001/2002 to £40.50 in 2012, and spending on household goods and services also decreased from £35.70 to £28.50.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said: "These figures reveal the full scale of the cost-of-living crisis facing households in Britain. Soaring energy bills are one of the main reasons people are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, but David Cameron has failed to stand up to the energy companies and shop them overcharging.
"This shows why Labour's energy price freeze is needed. Labour's price freeze would save money for 27 million households and 2.4 million businesses and our plans to reset the market will deliver fairer prices in the future."
Ed Matthew, director of the Energy Bill Revolution, the anti-fuel poverty campaign made up of a coalition of charities and businesses, said: "The energy bill crisis will never be solved until politicians finally acknowledge that UK homes, the most energy inefficient in Western Europe, need to be fixed. Why do we have plans to spend £375 billion on infrastructure and yet nothing on homes?
Super insulating UK homes is the only long term solution."
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "British households have had to tighten their belts in response to the tightest squeeze on living standards in a generation, with spending on food, transport and leisure activities all falling. At the same time the cost of things that families can't control, like rent and fuel bills, continue to rise and put ever more pressure on household budgets.
"Energy companies know that families can't do without heating, particularly if this winter proves to be as cold as the last two, yet they keep putting up their prices as living standards come under increasing pressure. That's why we need urgent action to reform the energy market and bring bills down. So far, the big six energy companies have been allowed to get off scot-free by the Government."