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A Guide to getting Financial Assistance

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See also

You may also want to read our free guidance on claiming Universal Credit.

1. Introduction

Moving into and maintaining a property comes with it’s own set of costs. Rent, Council Tax, utility bills, not to mention furnishings and the smaller maintenance jobs that become your responsibility.

How do you cope financially when you have spent all of your money on deposits, insurance and tenancy fees?

Thankfully, some help is available.

2. Priority Bills

If you are experiencing financial problems, you must first identify your priority household bills. If you are struggling with paying your priority and utility bills, you may be underemployed and/or receiving a low income. 

Your priority housing-related bills would be:

  • Council Tax
  • Rent
  • Electricity
  • Gas, where applicable

Priority bills are considered to be priority because of the serious consequences if they are not paid.

  • If you fail to pay your Council Tax bill, you can face a fine, Court Proceedings, bankruptcy and even imprisonment
  • If you fail to pay your rent, you could face Possession Proceedings being brought against you by your landlord and even eviction, leading to homelessness
  • Failing to pay your energy bills can lead to being disconnected and deductions being made from your benefit entitlement.

So you always need to give these bills top priority.  Other ‘non priority’ bills should only be paid once your priority bills have been covered.

For example

  • Credit card or store cards – here you can just pay the minimum sum and leave paying off the main loan until your finances are in better shape
  • Loans and overdrafts – just pay sufficient so that you are not penalised
  • Loans to friends and family – although you may feel a moral debt to clear these as soon as possible, you should avoid doing this until you have covered your priority debts.

3. Help with paying Council Tax

Although there is no specific Grant Aid available for Council Tax debts (at least via the Council Tax Offices), you may be entitled to one or more of the following:

  • A single person’s discount, if you are residing alone: Click here
  • A Council Tax reduction if you are in receipt of income-related benefits: Click here
  • If you are a severely disabled pensioner, the Local Authority may further reduce your Council Tax liability, so long as you meet the requisite criteria.

These reductions in your Council Tax liability can be applied for through your Local Authority Council Tax Department. 

If you do not know your Local Authority/Council you can find this out here.  Then go to the council website and search for the Council Tax section.

4. Help with paying Rent

Are you entitled to benefits?

You may be entitled to welfare benefits, and if:

  • you have lost your job,
  • you are on a zero-hour contract or
  • you are receiving a low wage.

you may already be receiving some benefits as your income was so low.  If not you probably should be.

Unemployment related benefits now come in the form of Universal Credit (UC). If you have no income, and are not restricted by your immigration status, you should apply for UC as soon as possible.

Click here for the online application form for UC: 

Universal Credit is financial provision for your essential needs, i.e. basic groceries, heating, water and electricity. 

‘Housing Costs’ are also paid as a part of your UC claim. Housing Costs will usually cover most of your rent liability. If not, it is important to consider whether the property you are residing in remains affordable.

Discretionary Housing Payments

You may also be entitled to a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). These are usually paid by the Local Authority (LA) Housing Benefit Department. Applications are accessible on your LA’s website (click here to find this). 

DHPs are discretionary and so, therefore, an application may be refused and there is no right of appeal.

It is very important that you fully explain your circumstances, and how you would be negatively affected if you were not granted the Payment. Also explain what changes you can make in order to place you in a better financial position in the future.

If you find this sort of thing difficult, you may want to seek help in drafting up the form – for example your local Citizens Advice Bureau (see also the services listed at the end of this article).

Click here for some government guidance on claiming Discretionary Housing Payments.

DHPs can be limited to a financial year-cycle, and they can be conditional, i.e. if you are using DHP to cover the reduction in your claim for Housing Benefit, due to the bedroom tax, the Housing Benefit Department may make a conditional offer on the basis that you are actively seeking to downsize.

See also the section below on grant aid.

5. Help with paying utility bills

Paying Energy Bills

Some energy providers offer financial assistance and grants toward paying off energy bills. 

The British Gas Energy Trust is open to all applicants. 

Six other providers accept applications from their customers:

Winter Fuel Payment

If you were born on or before 5 October 1954 and you are in receipt of income-related benefits and/or a State Pension, you may also be entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment.

These payments are usually made in November or December. If not, they will be paid by 31 March the following year. 

Cold Weather Payment

The Cold Weather Payment is a one-off payment available to you if you are in receipt of an income-related benefit, including Universal Credit.

This payment will be applied to your ongoing claim if the weather temperature drops below a certain level for a certain period of time.

Warm Home Discount Scheme

This is a one-off discount reducing your electricity bill by £140.00. You must be eligible for Guaranteed Pension Credit or in receipt of a low income to qualify for the discount.

Availability of this discount is dependent on the energy provider. Further, if you were to switch providers before receiving the discount, you would need to reapply for the discount with your new supplier.

Water Bills

Whilst water bills are not considered a priority bill there is financial assistance available through Thames Water WaterHelp and WaterSure to low-income households, large families and individuals with medical conditions:

WaterHelp offers a 50% discount on water bills for low-income households. 

WaterSure will cap off water bills for households using a water meter yet have been unable to save on their bills. It is available to large families and individuals with water-dependent medical conditions.

6. Other bills

Help with Furniture

There are various organisations who are willing to assist with funds toward basic essentials, particularly ‘white goods’ i.e. fridge freezers, cookers and washing machines, for example:

Also, some energy providers offer grants to both customers and non-customers specifically for white goods. 

Budgeting Loan

Budgeting loans are available to anyone in receipt of an income-related benefit other than Universal Credit:

Click here for guidance on how to apply.

If you are in receipt of UC you could request a ‘budgeting advance’.

Local Support Schemes

Most Local Authorities operate a ‘Local Support Scheme’, which is a replacement for what used to be known as a ‘Crisis Loan.’ You can apply for this through your Local Authority Housing Benefit Department.

Online Freebies!

There are also online communities offering to give away well maintained furniture for free, so long as they can be collected:

(Note – if you are aware of any similar sites, please let us know via our feedback form below and we will add it here)

7. Grant Aid

Grant Aid

We have discussed above some of the grants that are available, for example for utility bills.  However, there are thousands of organisations which will provide grant aid in specific circumstances.  For example:

  • To  people in specific industries – such as hospitality action for those in the hospitality industry
  • To people who are or have been in the armed forces – such as SSAFA
  • To former prisoners – such as Unlock
  • To households with children – such as Children in Need

These are just a few examples.  You may also be able to find a grant if you are disabled, have a particular qualification, have a particular nationality or so on.

Two good places to search for grant aid are:

It is well worth searching to find some Grant Aid, and making applications.  You can apply to more than one charity – for example, you may find that grants from several organisations are sufficient to clear your rent arrears (allowing you to remain in your property if your landlord was threatening to evict you for rent arrears).

Make sure though when making your application that you comply with all the organisation’s requirements.  For example, if they require a handwritten letter, they are unlikely to respond to you if you just send them an email.

8. Getting help

You may, with the assistance of this article, be able to resolve your issues yourself.  However, it makes sense to take advantage of one of the many organisations that provide help to people in financial difficulty.

You will find online help available:

If you want to visit someone for face to face advice, try your Citizens Advice Bureau Local Office.

 

This is the end of this article.

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