Cash in a crisis

What can you do if you don't have enough money to make ends meet? Here are some suggestions about how, when and where you may get help.

Facing a money crisis

You may find yourself facing a short-term money crisis for any number of reasons. This might be because:

  • you've lost your job and delayed claiming benefits
  • you've claimed benefits but they are not due to be paid yet
  • you've been disqualified from benefits for a while
  • you've found work but will have a wait until your first wages are paid.

You may face severe long-term money problems if your benefits and income aren't enough to meet your needs, for example because:

You'll need help and support to find alternative sources of income or practical help to get you through.

Sources of money in a crisis

Short term benefit advances

If you have recently claimed benefits for the first time, you will face a wait between the date you claimed and your first benefits payment. You can ask for an advance of certain benefits if the wait until your first payment will cause you hardship.

You can ask for a short term benefit advance when you claim income related benefits from Jobcentre Plus. These include income support, jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance, universal credit or pension credit.

You will usually have to repay a benefit advance within a maximum of three months. In exceptional circumstances this may be extended up to six months.

You may also be able to get a short term benefit advance to help you through a period of financial need caused by a wait:

  • for your second payment of benefits because your first payment is for smaller amount than you will usually get. (eg it covers a week or less, but you will then have to wait a fortnight for your next payment)
  • for an increase in benefits because of a change in your circumstances means you are entitled to more.
  • because the DWP is unable to pay you when it should due to technical reasons.

Budgeting loans from the social fund

You can apply to Jobcentre Plus for a budgeting loan to help with the cost of essential items. These can be for things you need if you are starting work, having a baby or to help pay for essential furniture or household equipment.

When you apply, you must be claiming one of these benefits for 26 weeks or more:

  • income support
  • jobseeker's allowance
  • employment and support allowance
  • pension credit.

To apply, you'll have to fill in a claim form for a budgeting loan and take or send it to your local Jobcentre Plus office.

Budgeting advances if you are claiming universal credit

Claimants of universal credit can claim budgeting advances. These are similar to budgeting loans.

To be eligible for a budgeting advance, you usually have to have been claiming one of these benefits for at least six months: universal credit, income support, jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance or pension credit.

The six month time limit does not apply if the reason you need a loan is to help you get work or keep work.

There is a maximum limit on the amount of budgeting advance you can get. You will usually have to repay a budgeting advance within 52 weeks. You won't be allowed another advance if you have a budgeting advance that has not been repaid.

You can apply for a budgeting advance if you are on a very low income and you the loan is needed to help you because you have found work, or the loan will enable you to keep work. Contact Jobcentre Plus for more details.

Local welfare and crisis funds from a council 

Local support by local councils has replaced social fund crisis loans and community care grants, which no longer exist.

The schemes offered vary from one council to another. Each scheme has its own rules. There is no standard name for these schemes. The scheme in your area might be called something like:

  • emergency support scheme
  • essential living fund
  • local assistance scheme
  • local welfare assistance
  • local welfare provision
  • local support scheme
  • local crisis fund
  • local emergency support
  • local welfare provision scheme.

The council will decide if you are eligible for help. In some areas help may be in the form of food vouchers, referrals to food banks or furniture projects rather than money. Depending on your circumstances, a local council may offer you some help if the welfare of your children is at risk or you are at risk of becoming homeless.

Get advice from a local advice centre if you are turned down for help. Use our directory to find an adviser in your area.

If you can't pay the rent

If you rent your home, you may be able to get help with your housing costs from the council. Local councils can provide help through:

You could claim a discretionary housing payment (DHP) from the council if you claim housing benefit to help pay your rent, but it isn't enough to cover your rent. These payments come from limited funds, so not everyone who applies will get help. Local councils may only award these payments for a temporary period.

If your money problems are so severe that you risk losing your home, contact your local council's housing options or homelessness service for advice. Sometimes a council may be able to offer financial help. Councils may decide to help you using funds to help with the prevention of homelessness. Use the search to find your local council.

Read Shelter's guide to rent arrears for more information on getting into difficulties paying for your home.

Food banks and other sources of free food

Food banks provide boxes of food to people in need in an emergency or crisis. Foodbanks are often run by church or community groups. The Trussell Trust lists over 300 food banks across the UK. Use their search to find your nearest foodbank

To use a food bank, you will need a voucher, which is then exchanged for 3 days' worth of food. Vouchers are available from local charities, doctors, health visitors, social workers, Citizens Advice and other welfare advice centres.

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

You can also find details of other sources of practical help such as free food and soup runs using the Homeless UK website. (Enter 'free food' in the text box, 'practical help' under subject. Use the drop down lists in the area box to narrow your search by region then local authority area).

Borrowing money at an affordable rate

You may be able to borrow money from a credit union. Credit unions aim to provide affordable loans and also encourage saving and help with budgeting. 

Last updated: 1 January 2014