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 about 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.

If you have claimed universal credit, you can also apply for a short-term advance payment.

Find out more from Turn2Us about short-term benefit advances if you claim jobseeker's allowance or income support.

Food, fuel and furniture in a crisis

If you’re in extreme financial hardship, your nearest council can sometimes help you with food, energy costs and essential household items.

The council looks at your claim and decides if you meet its criteria for help.

You must show that you are experiencing a crisis or hardship that is causing you serious financial problems.

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 costs such as buying furniture or household goods, you may be referred to a local charity or supplier.

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 an 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.

Contact the Trussell Trust to find your nearest food bank

You need a voucher to use a food bank. You 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.

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 bed 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 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

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.

Ask the council about claiming a discretionary housing payment to help pay your rent.

Local councils can also provide help through:

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.

Contact a Shelter adviser online, by phone or in person.

Help to pay your council tax

You may be eligible for a reduction in your council tax.

Find out more from about who pays council tax.

Find out more from StepChange about dealing with council tax arrears.

Get advice

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.

Contact Citizens Advice for benefits help and information.

Help to furnish your home

If you need help to find free or low-cost furniture and electrical equipment, there may be a furniture reuse charity in your local area.

The Reuse Network has details of schemes which can provide free or cheap cookers, fridges, sofas and other household items.

Borrow 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.

Find out more from the Money Advice Service about problems with payday loans.

Last updated 27 Jan 2016 | © Shelter

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