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Help with debt and rent arrears on Universal Credit

This advice applies to Scotland

You might be able to get extra help if you’re struggling with money and you’re on Universal Credit or you’ve recently applied for it.

Get money early if you’ve just applied

You’ll usually get your first Universal Credit payment 5 weeks after you apply.

You can ask to get your first payment sooner if you’re worried you won’t have enough money to live on - this is called an ‘advance payment’.

The advance payment is a loan - the repayments get taken off your Universal Credit payments automatically until you’ve paid it back. Find out how to get an advance payment.

You can apply for a crisis grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund to help you pay for essentials while you wait for your first payment. A crisis grant is a grant not a loan so you won’t have to pay it back. 

Find out how to get a crisis grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

If you're repaying a debt

If you’re paying back creditors or a debt management company, contact them to explain the situation.

Tell them you’ve applied for Universal Credit, but you won’t get your first payment for a while - say when if you can. Ask them if they’ll accept a late payment.

It’s a good idea to ask them to freeze interest on your debts until you’re paid.

If you’re repaying a debt, it can help to make a budget. You can use our budgeting calculator to help.

You can also check if you can get help with your debts or contact your nearest Citizens Advice for debt advice.

Change how you're paid

If you’re finding it difficult to manage on a monthly Universal Credit payment, you can change how you’re paid.

You can ask the Jobcentre to pay you twice a month instead of monthly. You can also ask for the housing costs element of your Universal Credit to be paid directly to your landlord. These are called the Scottish Universal Credit choices and are available to everyone getting Universal Credit in Scotland.

The Scottish Universal Credit choices are easier to set up than alternative payment arrangements, which are the only way to change how your Universal Credit is paid if you live in England or Wales.

Find out how to change your Universal Credit payment.

Getting an alternative payment arrangement

You can ask to have your Universal Credit paid differently to help you manage your money - these are called ‘alternative payment arrangements’. You might be able to get:

  • your housing costs paid straight to your landlord instead of being part of your Universal Credit payment
  • a Universal Credit payment twice a month instead of once a month
  • separate Universal Credit payments from your partner

When you can get an alternative payment arrangement

You might be able to get an alternative payment arrangement if you:

  • are in debt or rent arrears
  • have a disability - including a mental health condition
  • are homeless or are at risk of losing your home
  • have experienced domestic violence
  • have a learning difficulty, like problems with reading or writing
  • are in temporary or supported accommodation
  • are 16 or 17 or leaving care
  • have an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling

If you’re struggling to get by for other reasons, you might still be considered - contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

Asking for an alternative payment arrangement

If you’re applying for Universal Credit or you’re about to apply, you should ask for the arrangement you want at your interview.

If you’re already getting Universal Credit, you should call the Universal Credit helpline.

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Telephone (Welsh language): 0800 012 1888
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls to this number are free. 

If you're behind with your rent

Get advice on dealing with your rent arrears as quickly as possible - if you owe a lot of money, your landlord could try to evict you.

If you’re 2 months or more behind on your rent, your landlord can ask for some of your Universal Credit to be paid directly to them. This will help you pay off the debt. You’ll need to keep making your usual rent payments as well.

If these cuts in your payment mean you can’t afford day-to-day items like food or bills, call the Universal Credit helpline. They might be able to give your landlord less money for rent arrears.

You should tell the helpline what bills you have and how much they cost - include food bills and rent too.

Universal Credit helpline
Telephone: 0800 328 5644
Textphone: 0800 328 1344
Telephone (Welsh language): 0800 012 1888
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

Calls to this number are free. 

Getting more help with your rent

You might be able to get extra money from your council to help - this is called a ‘discretionary housing payment’ (DHP). You'll need to be getting the housing costs part of Universal Credit.

It's worth checking if you can get a DHP.

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