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Extra help if you’re on benefits or your benefits have stopped

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If your benefit payments aren't giving you enough to live on, you might be able to get what's called 'discretionary support' to pay for essentials or an interest-free loan from the government.

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

The Discretionary Support Scheme

You can get discretionary support to pay for urgent expenses or to deal with an emergency, including:

  • living expenses, for example food or clothing
  • household items, for example an oven or fridge
  • rent in advance for new accommodation
  • travel expenses for emergency situations, for example visiting a sick family member

You'll either be given a grant you don't need to pay back or an interest-free loan, depending on your circumstances.

Check if you can get discretionary support

You'll need to be in urgent financial need - to the point that if you don't get help it will have a serious impact on you or your family. For example, your oven has broken and you have no other way to cook food for your family.

You'll also need to be:

  • over 18 - or over 16 if you're not supported by your parents
  • living in Northern Ireland
  • have no other money you could use to sort out the problem

You don't need to be on benefits, but your income must be no more than £15,600 a year.

Applying for discretionary support

Call 0800 587 2750 to apply. You'll usually be told on the phone how much you can have and if it will be a grant or loan.

If you'd find it difficult to apply over the phone, you can apply in person at your local Jobs and Benefits office.

If you're offered a loan, you'll need to go to your local Jobs and Benefits Office to sign the terms and conditions.

If you're successful, the money will usually be paid straight into your bank or Post Office account. You'll be asked for your account details when you apply. 

Get a Discretionary Housing Payment to help with your rent

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

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

The NIHE doesn't have to give you a DHP - it depends on your circumstances.
If they 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

You an apply for a DHP by downloading and printing the application form  on the NIHE website. If you can't access the internet or a printer, you can ring your local Housing Executive Office and ask them to send you an application form in the post.

Be as specific 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 them if you're waiting for the NIHE 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.

Get an interest-free budgeting loan

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.

It's 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 nidirect. 

Get your benefit paid early

If you're struggling while waiting for the first payment of a new benefit you might be able to get a 'short term benefit advance'. This means your benefit will be paid early, with a small amount taken off future payments to pay it back - usually for 12 weeks.

You can also get an advance if your benefit has been increased but you haven't had the new amount yet, or if you've been told you won't be paid on the usual date.
You can get a short term advance for all benefits except:

  • Housing Benefit
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Child Benefit
  • Guardian's Allowance

To ask for one, call Finance Support.

Finance Support
Telephone: 0800 587 2750
Textphone: 0800 587 2750
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls are free from a landline and up to 45p from a mobile. 

Explain why you urgently need the payment, for example if you can't afford to top up your electricity meter. Make it clear that you can't get the money any other way, for example from family. 

Other help you can get

You can find details of more help and how to apply on nidirect.

Help for children and during pregnancy

Help with heating costs

Help with food and health costs

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