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Money advice: How to access financial support quickly

Has an unexpected life event affected your income? Here’s how to get money advice and support quickly and easily

The death of a partner, the loss of a job or the diagnosis of an illness are all unexpected life events that can knock us sideways. 

These events change our lives forever. They can also impact our financial circumstances quite suddenly, perhaps when we are at our lowest point.

Between four and six million people each year experience a life event that pushes them into poverty, according to charity Turn2us. However, there is money advice and help available for people in need to help prevent a life event crisis “evolving into persistent poverty”, says Liam Evans, Turn2us’s PR and external affairs manager.

“Our role is to encourage people to act as soon as possible,” Evans tells The Big Issue. “We often find something really small can be a trigger. One of those life events might have happened, then your dishwasher breaks, your washing machine breaks or your fridge freezer breaks.”

In these circumstances, people can often borrow hundreds of pounds as a short-term solution from so-called rent-to-own lenders. However, they often have high interest rates and are hard to repay, causing people to spiral into debt long-term.

“We give grants to stop that debt journey at the start and stop a financial crisis before it evolves into a long-term problem,” says Evans.

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This Big Issue article has more expert advice on why it’s a good time to take control of our finances.

The past 18 months of the pandemic have proved to everyone that life can change suddenly and unexpectedly. Millions have been impacted by job losses and furlough, have been ill with Covid-19 and losing loved ones to the virus.

During the first week of lockdown in 2020, Turn2us saw demand on its services increase to five times more than usual. In 2020, nearly nine million people used its website to access financial support and it gave emergency coronavirus grants of £500 totalling more than £1.5million.

As we move towards the end of the furlough scheme, the end of the Universal Credit uplift and increased energy bills from the start of October, Turn2us is expecting a higher demand on its services.

“Our concern is all these schemes coming to an end at the same time,” says Evans. “We would like to see the Universal Credit never cut. We would like to see that uplift made permanent and extended to legacy benefits. This could be a really dangerous cliff-edge moment for millions of people.”

What to do if you need money advice and help quickly and easily

Check what benefits you’re entitled to

“There can be an uphill battle with benefits because of the shame and stigma discourse in the UK that we really need to tackle,” says Evans. “It’s really important we encourage people to claim the benefits they are entitled to.”

According to Turn2us, people who are found to be eligible through its benefits calculator receive, on average, an extra £5,000 a year. To check what benefits you’re entitled to, use a free benefits calculator. There are several available if you search online, including via StepChange, entitledto or Policy in Practice.

Financial specialists IncomeMax also have a free confidential service to help you maximise your income as part of its Bounce Back campaign, which aims to help people recover from financial uncertainty. Read all about it in this Big Issue piece: You could be entitled to free money – here’s how.

Money advice: Budget

Maximising your income and reducing expenditure is all part of making a budget, which debt charity StepChange says is the first step to taking control of your finances. It helps you understand what’s coming in and going and what could change. The charity has a budgeting guide on its website, which includes working out your total income, making a list of everything you spend and then deducting what you spend from your income.

You can also read this Big Issue guide about budgeting and how to stay out of debt.

Maximise your income

The next step is to check what grants you’re eligible for. Turn2us has a grants search and there are other charities that might have grant schemes to help you.

In order to receive grants, you will need to be claiming all the benefits you are already entitled to and provide bank statements to show if you have savings.

“Income maximisation is crucial,” says Evans. “It could also include finding out if you can work more hours or finding out if you can move jobs.”

Money advice: Reduce expenditure

“This is the opposite to maximising income,” says Evans. This is where you look at all your outgoings and try to reduce costs.

“See if you can switch energy bills, or cancel your Netflix subscription, those sorts of things,” he adds.

Money advice: Find support, information and help

As well as a benefits calculator and grants search, Turn2us has a helpline and many resources on its website. If you need financial advice quickly or other support, charities such as Citizens Advice, Trussell Trust, or Shelter might be able to help.

StepChange has an emergency funding page, which offers information on what to do if you need emergency help with money and food. According to the charity, it’s the most popular page on its website, with more than 14,000 visitors in July 2021.

“There are so many amazing charities out there who offer bespoke information and advice,” says Evans. “It’s really important that you do use the resources there for you because that’s what we’re here for.”

Caroline Siarkiewicz, CEO at the Money and Pensions Service, says: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had widespread impact on people’s finances. Many people have needed to find support for the first time and it can be hard to know where to go for help. Whether your income is down and you’re worried about paying your bills, you’ve lost your job or are facing redundancy, or you are dealing with the financial impact of a divorce or bereavement, MoneyHelper is here to help you. Our government-backed service offers free and impartial support over the phone and online to help you get back on track.”

Siarkiewicz recommends the Money Navigator tool on the MoneyHelper website as a good place to start. The free tool will help you work out what issues you need to deal with first, how to stay on top of your bills and where to find any extra support you’re entitled to, based on your current circumstances. According to the Money and Pensions Service, three in five people who’ve received debt advice have either reduced or cleared their debts within three to six months and three quarters of people who have received debt advice feel more in control after getting help.

“The sooner you can tackle your money worries, the sooner you can feel empowered to manage your money and future with confidence,” Siarkiewicz adds.

MoneyHelper, a government-backed service, offers free, impartial advice via phone (0800 138 7777) or online.

What to do if you get into debt

If you start falling behind on essential bills such as rent or council tax, it could be a sign that you’re in problem debt and need specialist advice, according to StepChange.

The charity offers free, impartial advice over the phone (0800 138 1111) or online.

“Dealing with financial issues can be daunting, but you don’t have to do it alone,” says  Andy Shaw, debt advice policy officer at StepChange. “If you find yourself struggling to manage your finances because of debt, there are a number of completely free debt advice charities out there, including StepChange, who can help you evaluate your situation and find the best path forward.”

You can read The Big Issue’s guide to staying out of debt here.

Turn2us is one of six finalists in Nesta’s Rapid Recovery Challenge.

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