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If you're struggling with living costs

This advice applies to England

If you don’t have enough to live on, you might be able to get help from your local council or an interest-free loan from the government.

If you're waiting for benefit payments to start, you might be able to get your benefit paid early.

Get help paying for daily essentials

You might be able to get help from:

  • your local council
  • a government loan

Food

If you're struggling to pay for food, find out how to get help from a food bank.

If you get certain benefits and you’re pregnant or have a child under 4, you can get free vitamins and vouchers for milk, fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk.

To get the free vitamins and food vouchers from Healthy Start, you must be claiming:

  • Income Support

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance

  • Child Tax Credit - and your household earns £16,190 a year or less
  • Pension Credit
  • Universal Credit - and your household earns £408 a month or less

If you get Child Tax Credit you can’t get the vitamins and vouchers if you also get Working Tax Credit - unless you get the ‘run-on’ payment. Working Tax Credit run-on is the payment you get for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit.

If you’re under 18 and pregnant, you can still get vitamins and food vouchers even if you don’t get any of these benefits.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for an application form. You can also call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and ask them to send you a form.

Calls cost up to 9p a minute from landlines and up to 55p a minute from mobiles. It should be free if you call from your mobile and have landline calls included in your contract.

Check what help you can get from your local council

Your local council might give you vouchers to help pay for day-to-day essentials like:

  • a hot meal

  • second-hand furniture

  • household appliances, for example a cooker

This help is known as 'welfare assistance'. Each council runs their own scheme. The help on offer and who can get it varies. Find your local council on GOV.UK and ask them if they run a welfare assistance scheme that could help you.

You don’t have to be getting benefits to get help from your local council.

Get an interest-free loan to pay for essentials

You might be able to get what's called a 'budgeting loan' for essentials like clothing or a washing machine if you claim certain benefits.

You might be eligible if you get:

  • Income Support

  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance

  • Pension Credit

The loan is interest-free, so you'll only have to pay back what you borrow. You'll usually need to pay back the loan within 2 years.

Check what you could get and how to apply on GOV.UK.

If you get Universal Credit, you can’t get a budgeting loan. You can apply for a budgeting advance instead.

Get help paying your rent

If Housing Benefit or Universal Credit doesn't cover all your rent and you need more money, you could make a claim for a discretionary housing payment (DHP). A DHP is extra money from your local council to help pay your rent.

You need to claim Housing Benefit or the housing costs part of Universal Credit to get a DHP.

Your local council doesn't have to give you a DHP - it depends on your circumstances.

If the council decide to give you a DHP, they'll write to tell you:

  • how much you'll get

  • when the DHP will stop

If you still need a DHP after it stops, you can apply again.

Applying for a DHP

Contact your local council and ask how to apply for a DHP. They might want you to apply by phone or online. You can find out how to contact your local council on GOV.UK.

When you apply, be as clear as you can when you're explaining why you need a DHP. For example, you should explain:

  • why you can't afford to pay the rent

  • why you can't move somewhere cheaper

  • if it's causing problems for someone you look after, like a child or elderly relative

  • any evidence you have, like a letter from your doctor or details of debts you're paying off

You should also tell the council if you're waiting for them to decide whether you can get Housing Benefit.

If you apply on a paper form, it's a good idea to keep a copy of the form for your records.

Check what benefits you can get

You can use a free benefits calculator to check which benefits you can get. You’ll need to be a British or Irish citizen and over 18.

You’ll need details of your:

  • savings

  • income

  • pension

  • childcare payments

  • existing benefits

You’ll need these details for your partner if you have one.

You can use the Turn2us or Entitledto benefit calculators to check which benefits you can get.

You can also ask your nearest Citizens Advice to help you work out what benefits you can get.

Get your benefit paid early

Most benefits can be paid early. This is known as a 'short term benefit advance'.

You might be able to get your benefit paid early if:

  • you’ve claimed a benefit and are waiting for the first payment

  • your benefit has been increased but you haven’t had the new amount yet

  • you’ve been told you won’t be paid on the usual date  

A small amount will be taken off future payments to pay it back - usually for 12 weeks.

You can’t get a benefit paid early for:

  • Housing Benefit

  • Attendance Allowance

  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)

  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

  • Child Benefit

  • Guardian's Allowance

  • Tax credit

To ask for an advance, contact the DWP office that's dealing with your benefit claim. You can find their contact details on any letter or email you’ve had from them.

Next steps

If you don’t have enough to live on, check what else you can do to increase the money you have each month. You could:

Check what help you can get from local charities on the Turn2us website. You’ll need to know your postcode.

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