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.
You can ask for this if there is a delay in processing your benefit claim which isn't your fault, or 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 need to prove that you are experiencing financial hardship.
Contact your local Jobcentre Plus office to apply for a short-term benefit advance.
You usually have to repay the benefit advance within 3 months, but in some circumstances you have up to 6 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:
- use the Child Poverty Action Group map of local schemes
- contact your local council to ask about their welfare support
The council looks at your claim and decides if you meet its criteria for help.
To be eligible you must 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 probably won't 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 be 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 offer a free delivery service.
You 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 6 months, you can apply for an interest-free loan from your Jobcentre Plus office. This can be used 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:
- social fund budgeting loans if you claim income support, jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance or pension credit
- budgeting advances – if you claim universal credit
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 must 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.
Help to pay your rent
You may be able to get help from the council with the costs of renting your home.
Ask the council about claiming a discretionary housing payment to help pay your rent.
Local councils can also provide help through:
- housing benefit
- local housing allowance (LHA) if you rent privately
- the housing element of universal credit
- council tax reductions and support
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.
Get advice immediately if you already have rent arrears or are at risk of losing your home.
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 can 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.