Cash in a crisis

Waiting for benefits or wages can leave you short of money to pay your rent, food and utility bills. Find out what you can do and about the practical help available to get you through a cash crisis.

Short-term benefit advance

If you have claimed benefits, you may be able to ask for an advance payment of benefits if:

  • there is a delay in processing your benefit claim which isn't your fault
  • you are waiting for an increase in your benefit payments due to a change in your circumstances

To be eligible for this short-term benefit advance, you must be claiming an income-related benefit such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support or universal credit. You will need to prove that you are experiencing financial hardship.

Contact your local Jobcentre Plus office to apply for a short-term benefit advance.

You will usually have to repay the benefit advance within three months, but in some circumstances you will have up to six months to pay back the money.

Local welfare support from the council

You may be able to get help from your council’s local welfare assistance or similar scheme. (These schemes replace social fund community care grants and crisis loans, which no longer exist.)

To find your local scheme:

The council will assess your claim and decide whether you meet its criteria for help. To be eligible you will have to show that you are experiencing some kind of crisis or emergency that is causing you hardship or putting your finances under exceptional pressure.

The council's welfare assistance scheme will probably not give you cash. You may be offered vouchers for food or fuel, clothing or emergency travel, or be referred to a local food bank.

If you need help with the costs of moving home, such as buying furniture or household goods, you will probably referred to a local organisation providing free or cheap furniture

Get advice if the council says it can't help you. A welfare benefits adviser may be able to persuade the council to offer you some help or be able to help you access other sources of help. 

Use Shelter's directory to find a face-to-face advice service in your local area. 

Free food from food banks

Food banks provide boxes of food to people in need. They are often run by church or community groups. There are over 300 food banks across the UK. 

Some food banks offer a hot meal and advice service when you go to collect your food box. If you live in a rural area and cannot afford to travel to collect your box, some food banks will offer a free delivery service.

Contact the Trussell Trust to find your nearest food bank.

You will need a voucher to use a food bank. You then exchange this at the food bank for three days' worth of food. You can get food bank vouchers from local charities, doctors’ surgeries, health visitors, social workers, Citizens Advice and other welfare advice centres.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre to ask about food bank vouchers and other sources of food.

Budgeting loans and budgeting advances

If you have been claiming certain benefits for at least six months, you can apply for an interest-free loan from your Jobcentre Plus office, to pay for essential items such as:

  • a cooker, fridge and washing machine
  • furniture such as a beds or a sofa
  • the costs of moving into a new home
  • clothes for a job interview or so you can start work.

There are two types of loan, depending on which benefits you are claiming:

Both types of loan work in a similar way. The amount you can claim depends on what you need to pay for and your circumstances. You will have to repay the loan usually within 12 months. This may be extended to 18 months in some circumstances. You won't be allowed another loan until you have repaid the first one.

If you have been claiming benefits for fewer than six months or you are on a very low income, you can still apply for an interest free loan if you need the money to help you find or keep work, for example, to buy clothes for an interview or for a new job.

Contact your local Jobcentre Plus office for more information on how to apply. 

Use AdviceGuide's budget tool to help work out you much money you have to pay towards your debts. 

Help to pay your rent

You may be able to get help from the council with the costs of renting your home. Local councils can provide help through:

You can also contact your council's housing options or homelessness services for advice. Your local council may be able to offer financial help to help prevent you becoming homeless.

If you already have rent arrears or are at risk of losing your home, get advice immediately. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre or contact Shelter's free advice helpline

Borrowing money from a credit union

Rather than getting a bank overdraft or spending money on your credit card, credit unions are a more affordable option if you need to borrow money for a short time. Credit unions won’t let you borrow more than they think you will be able to pay back and the interest rates are low.

Try to avoid bank overdrafts, spending money on your credit card and borrowing from payday loan companies. These are very expensive ways to borrow money, especially if you don't repay them in time.

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