Help! I’m broke and need emergency support
If you've been struck by disaster or have run out of money and can't afford essentials like food or heating, there are emergency funds to help you.
You can no longer apply for crisis loans, and the system for emergency support is being tightened. But there are various other funds that cover a fair amount of what crisis loans covered. What you can get will depend on your situation, including whether you’re on benefits or not.
Emergency funds from your local council
Local councils are now responsible for helping you if you’ve been hit by a disaster like a fire or flood and you’re suddenly homeless or can’t afford food or necessities.
The type of help varies from council to council, there are no set rules about what they have to provide. Some will direct you to food banks and churches, some will give you a card loaded with cash that lets you buy food (but not alcohol or cigarettes), and some will give you a short-term loan. You don’t have to be on benefits to get this help.
You can apply by contacting your local council.
Money from the government if you’re on benefits
If you’re on benefits there’s emergency money available, depending on your situation. The Jobcentre won’t necessarily tell you about this, so arm yourself with knowledge:
1) Hardship payments
A hardship payment is a reduced amount of benefit payable if you have no other way of covering essentials such as food, heating or medical supplies. You might be able to get one if your benefit has been stopped because you’ve been sanctioned, or you’re being investigated for fraud, or have applied for a benefit and are waiting for a decision.
Who can get a hardship payment?
You need to be claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or Universal Credit. You’ll also have to show that you, your partner, or child would have to go without essentials if you don’t get the money.
When will I get a hardship payment?
If you or your family are considered vulnerable (e.g. you’re pregnant, sick or looking after children) you should be able to get a hardship payment in place of your next benefit payment. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for two weeks.
How do I apply?
Talk to your JSA advisor and ask for the JSA 10 ‘Jobseeker’s allowance hardship application’ form (you can find a sample here), or call the DWP contact centre on 0345 608 8545. You can either complete the form at the Jobcentre or with an advisor over the phone, but we strongly advise speaking to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) first, as getting hardship payments can be tricky and they’ll help you.
Do I have to pay back a hardship payment?
Not if you’re on JSA or ESA. But you will have to pay it back if you’re on Universal Credit.
2) Short-term benefits advances
Short-term benefits advances are available if you’re waiting for a benefit claim to be processed, haven’t been paid your benefit on the due date, or are waiting for your benefit to go up because of a change of circumstances.
Am I eligible for a short-term benefits advance?
Short-term benefits advances can be claimed against any benefit. You’ll need to be able to show that without the payment you, your partner, or children will have to go without essentials such as food, heating or medicine.
How do I apply?
Talk to someone at your local Jobcentre Plus, or call the DWP contact centre on 0345 608 8545.
Do I have to pay back a short-term benefits advance?
You’ll normally have to pay the advance back in three months.
3) Budgeting loans
Budgeting loans help you with one-off payments, like rent in advance or removal costs for a new home, maternity or funeral expenses and furniture. They can also help with travel and clothing costs for a new job. There’s a full list of things they can pay for here. Budgeting advances are similar, but for those on Universal Credit.
Am I eligible for a budgeting loan?
You’ll need to have been claiming income-based JSA, income-based ESA, or Income Support for at least 26 weeks.
How much can I borrow?
The minimum is £100, but you can get up to:
- £348 if you’re single
- £464 if you’re part of a couple
- £812 if you have children
The most you can owe at any one time is £1500.
How do I apply?
Download the SF500 budgeting loan form from the GOV.UK website, and post it or take in to your local Jobcentre Plus.
When do I have to pay back a budgeting loan/advance?
They normally have to be paid back within two years. Budgeting advances normally have to be paid within one year.
Help – my claim has been refused
If your claim has been refused you can sometimes challenge the decision. Details of this should be on your decision letter, and you should do it within one month of the date on the letter (ASAP if you want your money sooner). You’ll then get another decision letter that will tell you what you can do next.
These decisions can be based on complicated rules and some decisions are easier to challenge than other. It’s worth getting advice to give yourself the best chance of success. Your local CAB should be able to help. Find out more about appealing benefits decisions and challenging a budgeting loan decision.
Where can I go for help with emergency funds and loans?
Getting benefits is often a frustrating process. But there are lots of places you can go for help:
- Citizen’s advice volunteers know all about the benefits system and can help you understand your rights. You can visit your local bureau to get face-to-face advice and support. You must remember to bring along details of your benefits and general financial situation.
- This benefits calculator from Turn2us shows you how much benefit you should be getting – many people don’t realise how much they’re entitled to.
- Remember, if you want to challenge a decision about your benefit, you can appeal.
Unfortunately we are unable to offer benefits advice at The Mix, but we can give emotional support and guide you to the best places for expert advice if you give us a call on 0808 808 4994
Food banks are not a long-term solution, but these charities can give you a little food to keep you going if you have no other options.
The largest network of food banks in the UK is run by the Trussell Trust – find your local one here. You’ll need a referral from someone like your GP, social worker, or CAB. They can give you vouchers for up to three days.
You might also have local community centres running food banks, as well as soup kitchens and places to go for a free hot meal. Your local council, CAB or other local charities should be able to let you know what’s around you.
- Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
- Moving out for the first time? Get the real Home Truths.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Danny Sherwood
Updated on 19-Oct-2015
Photo of empty loo roll by Shutterstock
Cheaper ways to get a degree
Going to uni too much money? There are other ways you know.
Should I be saving money?
How to save, even when you're broke
Working below the minimum wage
Working below the minimum wage is illegal, but Ankur ...
What is Universal Credit (UC), and how will it work?
Can I afford this debt?
Getting into debt is easy. Getting out of it, not so much.