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


If you’re finding it difficult to pay for food or your essential bills, it may seem like there’s no help available. However, trust funds, credit unions, councils, energy providers, the government and charities all offer a range of practical support for people who need financial help urgently.

On this page we’ve put together different ways to get help. It contains a lot of information, but you can use the quick links below to go to the emergency help you need:

As well as getting the help you urgently need, we recommend you deal with your longer-term financial problems, whether you’ve just started missing payments or you already have debts you’re worried about.

When you come to us for free debt help, we’ll:

  • Work out your budget and see if there are any savings you can make
  • Advise you about which payments to deal with first
  • Help you deal with people chasing you for payments
  • Recommend ways to pay or write off your debts, based on your circumstances

Our advice is free and confidential. Get free debt help now.

I need money urgently. Where can I borrow money fast?

Emergency credit

We don't recommend payday loans or other forms of high-cost credit. They can leave you in even more financial trouble, due to high interest and charges.

There are better solutions available if you're struggling to pay for your essentials. These include credit unions and government-run schemes that can provide emergency loans quickly to people in difficult circumstances.

Credit unions

Credit unions are member-owned, local co-operatives that offer savings and loans, without making a profit. They have three main aims:

  • To provide loans at low interest rates
  • To encourage all members to save regularly
  • To help members in need of financial advice and help

You'll need to be a member of a credit union before you can get a loan from them, and some will require you to build up some savings first.

To find out whether your local credit union might be able to help you, find a credit union near you, and get in touch with them. Find out more about credit unions.

Grants and trust funds

We work with Turn2Us, a charity that helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact them, they’ll check what’s available to you.

We also work with a number of companies who provide ‘trust funds’. These are payments to people who can’t pay for insolvency services or energy bills. Find out where to get a trust fund.

Help from your local council

You may be able to apply to your council’s local welfare assistance scheme. These schemes are usually available to people on a low income who are in financial difficulty.

Each local authority runs their own scheme with different rules. Some help including small cash loans or grants, food vouchers and free used furniture.

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I have no food. Where can I get help?

Foodbanks

Foodbanks don’t just provide food. They also make sure people get essential household items.

The largest foodbank organisation in the UK is our partner, the Trussell Trust. We can refer you to if you come to us for help. It has over 1,200 foodbanks across the country. You can use their website to find your local foodbank.

There are also many smaller, local groups running foodbanks. If they don’t have websites, they can usually be found on social media.

To be able to access a foodbank you must have a referral from:

  • a trusted advice provider, such as StepChange,
  • Jobcentre Plus,
  • your social worker,
  • a children’s centre,
  • your local authority,
  • police or probation workers, or,
  • your GP, health visitor or other medical professional.

The volunteers at the foodbank will make sure you get vouchers, or a parcel, that meets the needs of the number of adults and children in your household and any dietary requirements. This will usually include:

  • Several meals, usually enough for three days
  • Other essential household items, like toiletries or cleaning products
  • 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.

Free school meals

If you receive certain benefits your child may be eligible for free school meals. This can help to 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.

mum at the table with bills

Struggling to make important payments?

Free, online debt advice available now

Get debt help

I can’t pay my rent. What can I do?

Contact your landlord immediately

If you can’t pay your rent, it’s important to contact your landlord or letting agency quickly. It’s best to offer a way to repay what you owe. If you don’t do this, you’re at risk of eviction.

You should ask them to agree to a plan to pay what you owe at a rate you can afford. You’ll have to show them your budget, and provide them with a reason why you’re struggling to pay. This is something we can help you with.

They don’t have to agree, but many will be reasonable.

Read our guide to dealing with rent arrears.

Find out what to do if you’re worried about being evicted.

Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP)

If you’re on Housing Benefit or Universal Credit but can’t afford your rent, you may be able to apply for a discretionary housing payment from your local council.

You’ll need to contact your local council to find out how to apply.

Can I get any financial support from the government?

Check you’re getting all the benefits you’re entitled to

Every year people in the UK miss out on billions of pounds worth of benefits and tax credits. You might be missing out on benefits payments and also a range of discounts and support. Check what you're entitled to by using our free benefits calculator.

Crisis loans

The government no longer offers crisis loans. They now encourage people to apply for a budgeting loan instead. You may be eligible for a budgeting loan if you have an unexpected expense and have been on one of the following benefits for at least 26 weeks:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credits

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

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

The amount you can apply for depends on your situation. Repayments to a budgeting loan are deducted from your benefits.

Hardship payments

You may be able to get a hardship payment to pay for food or bills if:

  • your Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or Universal Credit (UC) has been stopped
  • you’re vulnerable, or,
  • you look after someone who is at risk.

You can ask about this at your local JobCentre Plus, or by calling the Universal Credit helpline.

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644
  • Telephone (Welsh language): 0800 328 1744
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344

Short-term benefit advances

You may be able to apply for a short-term benefit advance. This is when the benefit is paid early. The advance is then repaid by deductions from future payments, usually over 12 weeks.

You can get a short-term benefit advance if:

  • You need money before your first benefits payment is made
  • You need money urgently before your benefits are increased
  • Your benefit will not be paid on its due date, for example because of technical problems

Most benefits can be applied for through your local Jobcentre Plus.

Read our guide to claiming benefits.

Can I stop my creditors chasing me for money?

Ask for a payment holiday

Taking a payment holiday can be a good way to ease your short-term money worries if you have a mortgage, credit card, loan or hire purchase agreement.

Missed payments during a payment holiday are usually treated as arrears, and interest and charges may continue to be added to your debt.

You can use our template letters to contact your creditors. If you need any help dealing with the people you owe money to, get in touch with us for free help with your debts.

Breathing Space to deal with your money worries

You may be able to apply for Breathing Space, so your creditors stop calling or writing to you while you deal with your debts. If you’re eligible, you could get up to 60 days' break from interest, fees and court action.

Also known as the Debt Respite Scheme, Breathing Space is only available in England and Wales. In Scotland, the moratorium is a similar scheme, available for up to six months.

Read our guide to Breathing Space and find out if you can apply.

Priority bills

Some bills are classed as priorities because the impact of not paying them are greater. You should pay bills and arrears like your council tax, rates, rent or mortgage first.

Learn more about which debts to pay first

I can’t pay my utility bills, what can I do?

If you’re struggling with payments, contact your supplier to let them know. They’ll discuss your options to help you repay the arrears.

Energy arrears are priority debts. We can work with you on a plan to make the repayments and avoid being disconnected.

Energy companies also have lower tariffs available. These are usually called ‘social tariffs’. They also offer services like hardship funds and priority services registers for people who need further help.

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.

We’ve put together a guide to dealing with energy bills, covering:

  • What to do if you owe the supplier money
  • Making sure you’re treated fairly

The Energy Saving Trust has a lot of useful information on saving money on your energy bills and where you can apply for financial support.

Water bills

Water suppliers have further support available for customers who are struggling with money. These are often available for people who are on low incomes and/or benefits, but it depends on their situation.

Help varies between suppliers - find out more about support from water companies.

I can’t pay my mortgage, can I get help?

If you’re struggling to make your mortgage repayments, there is help. You should speak to your mortgage provider quickly.

Your mortgage provider will help you set up a plan to repay what you owe, or may offer other options, including:

  • Taking a payment holiday
  • Switching to an interest only mortgage
  • Extending the length of your mortgage
  • Help with an assisted voluntary sale scheme

You might be able to get help form the government if you are on a benefit.

Find out more about dealing with mortgage arrears

Support with mental health issues

If you're finding things tough, you’re not alone and support is available. We work with a number of specialist organisations who have helped us put together resources for people dealing with money worries and mental health issues.

Don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Whatever you’re dealing with, they’re there for you. Call the Samaritans for free on 116 123.

We understand the burden that debt can cause. We can offer you free support and advice.

Who are we?

  • UK's leading debt charity
  • Over 25 years' experience
  • Free, impartial advice & managed debt solutions

How we help