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What to do if you need emergency help with money and food

Are you in a cash crisis situation and urgently need money for food or other essentials? The resources on this page could help you get the help you need.

A cash crisis could be caused by anything from delayed benefits to job loss that leaves you severely short of money that you need for essentials like food. If you find yourself in this situation help is available.

We’ve divided this page into three sections – help now, help this month, and help over the longer term.

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Who can help me right now?

How to find your local foodbank

A foodbank is a free service that provides food for people who are struggling with money. To be able to access a foodbank you’ll need to be referred by one of the following agencies:

  • Jobcentre Plus
  • A social worker
  • Citizens Advice
  • Children’s centres
  • Local authorities
  • Police or probation workers
  • GPs, health visitors or other medical professionals

If you get referred to a foodbank you’ll normally receive vouchers or a letter to exchange for food. Most foodbanks provide you with a few days’ worth of meals and sometimes you'll receive other household items like toiletries or cleaning products. Some also help with small top-ups of credit for gas or electric pre-payment meters. Foodbanks may also help you access other sources of help in your local area.

The largest foodbank organisation in the UK is the Trussell Trust. It has with over 400 foodbanks across the country. You can use their website to find your local foodbank. There are also smaller organisations running foodbanks too.

If you aren’t already in touch with the agencies above, you can get in touch with your local foodbank to ask for help. They’ll work with one of their referring agencies to arrange an appointment with you.

Emergency funding from your council

In some situations you can apply to your council’s local welfare assistance scheme. These schemes are usually available to people on a low income that are facing financial difficulty. Each local authority runs their own scheme with different qualifying criteria. Some offer small cash loans or grants, food vouchers, free used furniture and so on.

Different emergency funding is available depending on where you live in the UK.

  • If you live in England and you’re struggling, get in touch with your local council to find out if you meet the criteria for the scheme and to see if they can help

Support if you’re having a difficult time

Although some organisations can’t help you with money or food, they can provide support if you’re finding things tough at the moment.

If you’re experiencing mental health issues, Mind can help by providing advice and support.

If you’re worried about your situation and want someone to talk to, the Samaritans have a range of support services available, including a helpline that you can call around the clock. You don’t have to have a specific issue to call; they’re there to simply help anyone that needs someone to talk to.

Who can help me this month?

Applying for a short-term benefits advance

If you’ve applied for benefits but need money before your first payment you can apply for a short-term benefits advance.

Find out how to apply for a short-term benefits advance on the Government website. Or get in touch with Jobcentre Plus for advice.

Help when you can’t pay gas, electricity or water

If you’re struggling with payments for a gas, electric or water bill, contact your supplier to let them know. They’ll discuss your options to help you repay the arrears.

In some situations, they’ll have further support available for customers who are struggling with money. Help varies between suppliers, and you can find a useful summary of the different energy schemes available around the country (PDF) here.

If you have a pre-payment meter, some foodbanks can also help by giving you a small top-up if you’re out of credit.

It’s important to contact your suppliers if you’re struggling, as gas, electricity and water bills are priority payments. This is because of the actions your suppliers can take to get you to repay arrears. If you miss payments to gas and electricity bills, your providers could cut your supply off.

If you miss payments to water, gas, and electricity bills your suppliers can start court action to get you to repay them, or in some cases deduct money directly from your benefits.

Social fund budgeting loans

If you’ve been on certain benefits for at least 26 weeks and have an unexpected expense you need to cover you may be eligible for a budgeting loan to cover the costs. The amount you can apply for depends on your situation but the smallest amount you can get is £100. Repayments to a budgeting loan are deducted from your benefits.

You can use budgeting loans to help pay for things like:

  • Furniture
  • Appliances
  • Moving costs
  • Maternity expenses
  • Travel costs

What to do if you can’t pay your rent

If you’re unable to pay your rent, it’s important to get in touch with your landlord to let them know the situation. You may be able to come to a payment arrangement that’ll help you to pay off your arrears.

In this situation you’ll need to find out what kind of tenancy you have, so you can find out what your rights are. If you’re unsure contact Shelter for help. They also offer specialist housing advice if you’re facing eviction.

You may also be eligible for housing benefit. You can check this by using our online benefits calculator. It’ll let you know if you’re entitled to any other benefits too.

What can help in the long term?

Free school meals

If you receive certain benefits your child may be eligible for free school meals. This can help reduce some of your day-to-day costs. 

You can find out if your child is eligible for free school meals on the Government website.

Applying for grants

Turn2Us is a charity that helps people in financial difficulty access grants and support services. They can also help you check if you’re eligible for benefits or other grants that could help to improve your situation in an emergency.

Help during pregnancy

During pregnancy you’re entitled to free NHS prescriptions and free dental treatment on the NHS. You can continue to receive both of these for free, for up to one year after you’ve had your baby. You can find out more about receiving free dental treatment during pregnancy on the NHS website.

If you receive certain benefits and are expecting your first child, you may be eligible for a Sure Start Maternity Grant. The grant helps towards the costs involved with having a baby, and you won’t need to pay it back. You can find out more about the Sure Start Maternity Grant, and check your eligibility, on the Government website.

Help if you’re in, or have been in, the Forces

SSAFA is a charity that offers support to people who’ve served, or are currently serving in the Forces. They may be able to offer you help with a range of support from housing advice to buying household goods, and health care.

Find out about the services they offer, and check your eligibility for help on the SSAFA website.

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“I wish to thank your staff for all the great help they gave me when I was in so much debt.
They were a pillar of support to me.” (Leslie, Essex)

Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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