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If you can’t pay your bills because of coronavirus

This advice applies to Scotland

There are things you can do if you're struggling to pay your bills because of coronavirus, for example your council tax, rent, loans and energy bills.

If you’re already in debt

It’s important to get help straight away if you’re in debt, or worried about money. Don’t ignore your bills or letters about money you owe.

You can find out how to start paying your debts . You can also get help from an adviser.

It’s also worth speaking to the organisations you owe money to – they might be able to help by letting you pay smaller amounts or take a break.

Some bills can cause you more problems if you don’t pay them. It’s worth checking what bills you should pay first.

Check if you can get extra help or money

You might be able to claim benefits or get more money on your current benefits if:

  • you have coronavirus, or you’re following guidance to stay at home
  • you’ve lost your job 
  • or you’re self-employed and can’t get work
  • you can’t work because your workplace has closed 

Check what benefits you can get if you’re affected by coronavirus

Check if you can get free school meals and the family pandemic payments

All children in Primary 1, 2, 3 and 4 can get free school lunches at local council schools during term time. If you have older children and you get certain benefits or you have a low income, you might be able to get free school meals because of your income.

If you get free school meals because you have a low income, you’ll get 2 family pandemic payments. You’ll get £100 for each school age child who gets free school meals. You should get the first payment by the end of the summer term and the second by the end of the winter term.

Find out more about free school meals and the family pandemic payments.

If you need help with food and energy

Check if you can get help from the Scottish Welfare Fund. You might be able to get a grant to help you pay for things that you need, such as food, gas, electricity or household goods. You’ll need to apply to your local council. You can apply even if you've had crisis grants before. Find details of your local council on mygov.scot.

You can also check our advice about foodbanks and other emergency help.

If you can't pay your council tax

You might qualify for a council tax reduction if your income has dropped or if you started claiming benefits recently.

You should check with your local council to see if you qualify for a council tax reduction or use our check my council tax tool to see if you can reduce your bill.

If you don't think you qualify for a reduction

If you don't think you qualify, it's still worth asking your local council if you can get a reduction or other help with the bill. You should continue to prioritise paying your council tax and your rent or mortgage.

If you're struggling to pay, ask the council if they can be flexible about your payments due to coronavirus. They might agree to a payment plan or to delay taking action against you for missed payments. Check their website for council tax advice.

You can find your local council on mygov.scot.

If you have a property that is unoccupied

If you have a property that has been unoccupied from or after 17 March 2020 because of coronavirus, you might be eligible for an exemption on council tax from 27 May 2020. The exemption applies if the people who were living there before 17 March 2020 were exempt, for example students. Check with your local council.

The low-income pandemic payment

If you were getting a council tax reduction during April 2021, you’ll get a payment of £130 from your council.

You should get it before 30 November 2021. 

You’ll also be eligible for the payment if you don’t have to pay council tax because: 

  • you're staying in temporary accommodation, including a refuge 
  • your home is unoccupied because youre being cared for or are caring for someone else 
  • everyone in your household are care leavers, are under 18 or are severely mentally impaired.

You might also get the payment if your claim for a council tax reduction is backdated to include a date in April. 

If you’re getting a council tax reduction or you don’t have to pay council tax for the reasons above, then you don’t need to apply for the low-income pandemic payment. Your council will pay you automatically.

Find out more about the low income pandemic payment.

Check what help you can get with your bills

Most organisations or people you owe money to should be able to help you by doing things like:

  • reducing your payments
  • giving you more time to pay
  • keeping you connected to their service even if you owe money - for example your energy, phone or internet 

Each provider will be different so it’s important to check what help you should get.

If you can’t pay your rent

If you can’t pay your rent you should explain the situation to your landlord straight away. They might give you more time to pay, or agree to reduce your rent. 

If you can't agree with your landlord about your rent payments, it's a good idea to keep paying as much as you can afford. Keep a record of what you discussed with your landlord and how much you paid.

You should also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau - an adviser can help you explain things to your landlord. 

If you’re behind with your rent payments, you can find out more about dealing with rent arrears.

You might be entitled to benefits to help with housing costs if your income has reduced, even if you’re still working. You might be entitled to Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. You can check what benefits you can get

If you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit but it doesn’t cover all your rent, you could get extra money from the local council. This is called a Discretionary Housing Payment. Find out how to apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment.

Tenant Hardship Loan Fund 

If you're eligible, you could get a Tenant Hardship Loan. The loan can be used to cover up to 9 months' rent. This can be made up of:

  • rent arrears since 1 January 2020, or
  • up to 3 months of future rent payments, or
  • a combination of both - but only up to a maximum of 9 months' rent.

The loan is interest free but you must pay the money back. You can pay it back over 5 years. You won't need to pay anything back in the first 6 months.

It's important not to take on more debt than you can afford. If you don't think you will be able to repay the loan, it might not be right for you.

Before you apply for a loan, you should check if you’re eligible for financial help that doesn’t need to be paid back. For example, Universal Credit or a Discretionary Housing Payment. Get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

You will need to pass an affordability check and a credit check before being offered a loan. You might want to get financial advice before applying. 

You can find out more about the Tenant Hardship loan and how to apply on the loan portal.

If you can't leave the house to pay your rent

Ask your landlord if you can pay your rent in a different way, like an online transfer. If this isn’t possible, you could try to find a friend or family member you trust to go and pay the rent for you. 

Make sure you get a receipt, in case your landlord doesn’t realise you’ve already paid. 

If you're worried about being evicted

Unless you live with your landlord, they can't evict you without following the correct legal procedure in either the sheriff court or the First-tier Tribunal, depending on the type of tenancy you have. If your landlord changes the locks or tries to make you leave without a court or tribunal order, this is illegal.

If you’re behind with your rent, your landlord can only evict you if they give you 6 months’ notice. Read more about what to do if you have rent arrears.

If you’re a private-sector tenant, your landlord must also go to the First-tier Tribunal to get an eviction order. The tribunal must consider if it’s reasonable to evict you in the circumstances.

Illegal eviction is a criminal offence. There's advice about illegal eviction on the Shelter Scotland website

If you're facing eviction, you can get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau or from Shelter Scotland

If you can’t pay your mortgage

Ask your mortgage provider for help if you’re struggling. For example, they might agree to let you pay less each month - this means you’ll pay your mortgage back over a longer period of time.

You can also find out more about dealing with mortgage problems.

If you’re behind with your mortgage payments

Your mortgage provider can carry out repossessions. Read more about what steps your mortgage provider must follow to repossess your home.

If you class yourself as vulnerable, you should explain this to your mortgage provider and ask them to hold off possession action. For example, you might be experiencing health problems. 

If your mortgage provider says they will continue, you should complain to them as soon as possible.

Your mortgage provider should only repossess your home after exploring all other options with you. For example, they should normally have offered another option like a payment plan.

Your mortgage provider shouldn’t try to evict you if your only arrears are deferred payments because of coronavirus and you’ve arranged to pay them back.

If your mortgage provider’s still trying to evict you, talk to an adviser.

Your mortgage provider shouldn’t start court action against you without following the Mortgage Conduct of Business rules set by the FCA. You can check what happens when your mortgage lender takes you to court

If you can’t pay your energy bills

At the moment, your energy supplier won’t disconnect your gas or electricity if you miss a payment. If you’ve got a prepayment meter and you don’t top it up, your energy supply might still stop.

If you call your supplier, you might have to wait longer than normal to speak to someone. If you can, try contacting them online through their website, through social media, or by email.

Find out more about what to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills

If you have a prepayment energy meter

Your supplier will try to help you find ways to keep your energy supply connected if you can’t top up your meter because of coronavirus. 

Tell your supplier as soon as possible if you can’t top up. You’ll find their contact details on their website or on your bill.

Check our advice on what to do if:

If you can't pay your mobile, phone, internet or TV bill

You should be able to get help from most providers. 

Contact your provider and ask what they can do to help. For example, they might agree to help you by:

  • reducing your bill
  • giving you more time to pay
  • increasing your data or download limit
  • moving you to a contract that suits your needs better

If your provider won't help you, you might be able to switch to a different provider. If you owe money to your old provider when you switch, you’ll still have to pay them.

If you work for the NHS

Your provider might be able to give you extra help, for example:

  • giving you more data, calls or texts
  • upgrading your broadband, if you have to work from home

Contact your provider and ask what they can do to help NHS staff.

If you can't pay your TV licence fee

Contact TV Licensing for help. They can help you:

  • change your payment plan
  • cancel your licence if you don’t need it

You can check how to contact TV Licensing and what they can do to help on their website.

If you can't pay child maintenance

Tell the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) – check how to contact the CMS on their website.

If you’re struggling to pay your essential living costs, the CMS might agree to let you pay less.

If you can't pay your tax bill

If you're struggling to pay your tax bill, you should speak to HMRC straight away. You can call them on their coronavirus helpline:

HMRC coronavirus helpline
Telephone: 0800 0159 559
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm
Calls to this number are free.

You can read more about what to do if you can't pay your tax bill on time on GOV.UK.

If you can’t pay for your insurance

If you’re struggling to pay because of coronavirus, contact your insurance provider and explain the situation. 

They might be able to help you by:

  • removing parts of your policy to bring the cost down - for example, taking out breakdown cover
  • letting you pay over a longer period or change your repayment date
  • not charging you fees for paying late
  • pausing your payments for up to 3 months - you'll still have to pay later and you might have to pay interest too.

Your insurance provider shouldn’t charge you any fees for changing or cancelling your policy. 

If you paid for your insurance up front and then change your policy to make it cheaper, you should get a refund of the difference.

If you don't think your insurance provider is treating you fairly, you could complain to them. If your insurance provider won’t agree to help, you can complain to an ombudsman.

If you can’t repay your benefit overpayment or budgeting loan

If you’re struggling to pay your essential living costs and can’t afford your repayments, contact the DWP’s Debt Management contact centre.

DWP - Debt Management contact centre
Telephone: 0800 916 0647
Textphone: 0800 916 0651
Calling from abroad: +44 (0)161 904 1233
Monday to Friday, 8am to 7.30pm
Saturday, 9am to 4pm

Calls to these numbers are free.

If you can’t repay your credit card, store card or catalogue debts

At the moment, your credit card or store card company won’t stop your credit card – even if they’ve said they might.

If you ask the company, they might agree to reduce or pause your payments temporarily.

Check what to do if you’re struggling with credit card bills.

If you can’t repay a loan

Your lender might agree to reduce or pause your payments temporarily.

This might be money you’ve borrowed from a bank or a loan company. It could also be a payday loan or money from a pawnbroker.

Check what to do if you can’t repay a loan.

If you can’t pay for something you bought on finance

The finance company might agree to reduce or pause your payments temporarily.

You might have used finance to buy things like:

  • a car
  • something for your home - like a washing machine or furniture

Buying something on finance is sometimes known as ‘rent to own’ or ‘hire purchase’. 

Check what to do if you bought something on finance you can’t pay for.

If you can't pay back money you owe 

You can apply for a moratorium if:

  • you're worried that people you owe money to might take steps to get the money back
  • you're thinking of applying for bankruptcy (sequestration), a protected trust deed or the Debt Arrangement Scheme.

A moratorium:

  • stops creditors from taking action while you get advice
  • protects you for 6 months but doesn't stop interest or charges from building
  • might affect your credit rating. 

Creditors and sheriff officers should be sympathetic to money problems caused by coronavirus. They should treat you fairly and follow the Financial Conduct Authority's rules.

If you're in the Debt Arrangement Scheme and can't afford a payment

If you're already in a Debt Payment Programme (DPP) under the Debt Arrangement Scheme and you can't afford a payment, speak to your money adviser. They might be able to arrange a payment break for you or apply to change the amount of money you pay.

If you’re thinking about borrowing money to pay your bills

It’s best to ask for help first from the organisations you need to pay. You might be able to agree a plan with them to help you pay the money you owe.

It’s usually more expensive to take out a loan – you’ll have to pay extra costs like interest.

If you can't pay your rent, you might be able to get a Tenant Hardship Loan from the Scottish Government. You could get a loan to cover up to 9 months' rent.

If you decide to take out a loan, you should:

  • check you can afford to pay the loan back

If the lender isn’t authorised or registered

If they’re not authorised or registered, don’t borrow money from them.

An unauthorised lender might want to charge high interest rates or expensive fees. They might not give you proper paperwork, and might ask to take things like your passport, or a bank card as security for the loan. 

Unauthorised lenders are often called ‘loan sharks’. You can report loan sharks on the Trading Standards Scotland website.

If you’re struggling to pay back your overdraft 

You should contact your bank or building society and explain you’re struggling to pay back your overdraft. 

They might be able to help you by:

  • not charging you interest on your overdraft
  • reducing your overdraft with a payment plan - this means you would keep your overdraft but reduce the limit each month
  • suggesting you take a loan out to pay off some or all of your overdraft 

It's worth speaking to an adviser if you're thinking about taking out a loan to pay off your overdraft. It's likely to cost you more and could cause problems if you can't afford the payments.

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