Lots of people struggle to pay for bills and essentials, particularly if they're on a low income or benefits. The cost of living is high and even if you're working, sometimes outgoings can be far more than what is coming in. If debt and budgeting is a problem for you, it might help to get some advice on managing your finances from organisations such as Money Advice Service.
This page covers some specific things you can do to help your finances and access additional help. It covers:
Check you're receiving all the benefits you're entitled to
Unfortunately Universal Credit are unable to give more than someone's entitlement and they also can't release payments earlier than due. Some people do qualify for advances from Universal Credit but these have strict eligibility rules and borrowing money can make long-term financial situations worse.
If you are unsure how Universal Credit calculate your payment or you have any doubts that you are receiving the correct amount, it can be beneficial to have an expert check over your statement. We can do this for you or you could look for a local welfare advice agency near you. If Universal Credit have been underpaying you, you could be owed money.
Food and essentials
Trussell Trust Foodbanks are in lots of locations. You can search their website to find your nearest one and see their openings times. Some areas have additional local foodbanks set up (usually by places of worship or community groups). You may require a voucher or a direct referral to access a food parcel but get in touch with them with them direct to find out procedure.
Utilities (gas, electric and water)
If you are on pre-payment meter then you may be able to receive top-up vouchers from a Foodbank but if not, then give your supplier a call and explain your situation with financial hardship and ask if they offer discretionary credit. All the major companies do and they should help as long as your need is short term. If you are currently paying back a debt through the meter, then you can discuss having your repayments lowered.
If you're not on a meter and receive bills and can't afford your next payment or have missed payments, call and speak to your supplier. They can reschedule your payments and spread the arrears over the coming months.
Make sure to tell your supplier if any of the following apply and ask to be added to their priority service:
have a long-term illness
are over state pension age
have young children living with you
have financial problems - for example if you are behind on rent
It is important to speak to your suppliers about your concerns rather than ignoring the problem as many companies will do what they can to help you.
What to do if you can't pay your rent
If rent arrears are a problem or you have a shortfall in your housing element, then you may wish to consider applying for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).
If you are struggling to pay you rent, then make sure to talk to your landlord or letting agent, ignoring the situation can make it worse. Often they can help set up repayment plans or agree an extension.
If you are at risk of eviction we recommend speaking to Shelter.
A Discretionary Housing Payment is operated by your local area.
If you are on a low income then you may qualify for help with your council tax. Get in touch with your local authority to make a claim. If you are struggling to pay your council tax then give them a call and see if you can pay by instalments. If your instalments are already high then ask if they can be spread over more months. Some councils do offer discretionary council tax support payments, in exceptional circumstances. Do not ignore council tax as they can be very fast in taking steps for debt recovery.
Deductions from Universal Credit
If you are paying back advance payment from your Universal Credit and you have temporary circumstances that are making these unaffordable, it is possible for Universal Credit to stop deducting for advances for a period of up to 6 months. This is discretionary, so there's no guarantee they will agree. To request this, you need to call them on 0800 328 5644 and ask for your advance payments to be deferred.
NOTE: If you do this then make sure to also call DWP Debt Management (0800 916 0647) as repayments for other debts may increase.
If you have any DWP debts or overpayments being deducted from your Universal Credit and you are struggling with hardship then you can call DWP debt management and ask for repayments to be lowered to the least amount they will accept. It is possible for them to set a repayment at £5 per month. You may be asked to explain your priority debts and budgeting and why you need these repayments lowered.
Bank and overdraft charges
If this is causing you to go without basic essentials and paying priority bills, then speak to your bank immediately. They have a duty towards their customers and most banks have a 'financial difficulties' team you can ask to speak with. If appropriate they can hold charges, give you a temporary overdraft to stop you incurring more charges, or make other suggestions. In some circumstances they can even refund charges as a gesture of good will.
Specific help for claimants living in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
A long time ago, the benefit office used to operate crisis funds but that role and the associated funds were taken off of the social security system and passed to local authorities, to handle as they see fit.
Unfortunately England don't have a scheme which applies to every local authority but many of the areas still offer help through a Local Welfare Assistance Scheme. Search for your local authority and have a look at their website or give them a call. They may not provide you with cash but may be able to help with food and essential items.
The Scottish Welfare Fund helps families and people in Scotland who are on low incomes through Crisis Grants and Community Care Grants.
You can apply for a:
Crisis Grant – if you're in crisis because of a disaster (like a fire or flood), or an emergency (like losing your money or an unexpected expense).
Community Care Grant – to help you or someone you care for to start to live, or to carry on living, a settled life in the community.
Discretionary Support is quick, short-term financial support. It is paid either as an interest-free loan or grant into your bank account. Universal Credit Contingency Fund Payment - A non-repayable payment that may be available to people who have made a new claim to Universal Credit and are continuing to experience financial difficulties, subject to meeting certain eligibility criteria (including being in first or second assessment period).
The Discretionary Assistance Fund provides 2 types of grant that you don’t need to pay back.
Emergency Assistance Payment (EAP) - A grant to help with essential costs after an emergency, or if you have experienced a disaster such as a flood or fire in your home, or extreme financial hardship for reasons including delays in benefit payments. The payment will help you cover the cost of food, gas and electricity, clothing and emergency travel.
Individual Assistance Payment (IAP) - A grant to help you or someone you care for live independently rather than enter or remain in an institution such as a care home or hospital. With this grant you can receive white goods such as a fridge, cooker and washing machine, essential home items such as beds, bedding and seating.
Debt and budgeting advice
If debt and budgeting is often a problem for you then it can help to speak through your situation and options with a trained advisor. There are lots of organisations but the Government recommended one is Money Advice Service.