Social Justice

Where to get help as cost of living payments come to an end

This is all the cost of living help available to households - including how to apply for benefits, where to get help to pay your bills, debt advice and finding a food bank

cost of living help for households

The cost of living crisis is hitting vulnerable people harder. Image: Mikhail Nilov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-in-gray-long-sleeves-holding-a-credit-card-6962989/

As the UK continues to face a cost of living crisis, it’s important that people know what cost of living help is available to their household.

Prices are still rising in spite of inflation easing – with food and energy prices extortionate.

If you are worried about paying for food, electricity and other household costs in a cost of living crisis, you are far from alone.

Cost of living payments have been a lifeline for millions of low-income families over the course of the crisis, but the last of the payments are currently hitting bank accounts. But there are other forms of help out there for people who need it most. 

We have rounded up some of the options available to households – including benefits like universal credit, cost of living payments, grants, food banks and support from your local council. 

How to claim cost of living help from the government 

How to know if you are eligible for universal credit and other benefits

If you are struggling with money, you may be eligible for benefits and welfare support. If you’re not sure where to start, Citizens Advice offers information and services to help people and they can advise you as to what financial support is available from the government to help you. 

You could be entitled to benefits and tax credits if you are working or unemployed, sick or disabled, a parent, a young person, an older person or a veteran. You can use the charity Turn2Us’ benefits calculator to find out what benefits you are entitled to claim. 

The government’s Help for Households website explains what support you could be eligible for – such as cost of living payments. These are some government schemes which may help if you are struggling:

Scottish Welfare Fund

This is offered in Scotland to provide a safety net for people on low incomes. These include crisis grants and community care grants. You can apply online through your local council’s website. 

Discretionary Assistance Fund

In Wales, there is the Discretionary Assistance Fund. This includes an emergency assistance grant, which helps cover essential costs, such as food, gas, electricity, clothing or emergency travel if you are experiencing extreme financial hardship, have lost your job or are waiting for your first payment. You can apply through the Welsh government’s website.

Finance Support Service

The Finance Support Service supports people who live in Northern Ireland and need short-term financial help. This includes discretionary support to help towards short-term living expenses or household items.

How to apply for free school meals

People can generally apply for free school meals through their local authority’s website. You can find out more about how to apply if you live in England through the government’s website here, which will link you to your council’s free school meals page. There’s a different process to apply depending on where you live. Find out more information on how to apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Find out more about free school meals and if your child might be eligible here

How to get help from your energy supplier in the cost of living crisis

A number of energy suppliers offer grants to their customers to help them pay their energy bills. Contact your energy supplier if you are struggling and they may be able to help. We’ve listed a few grants available below:

British Gas Grants

British Gas grants are available to everyone who has an energy debt of up to £2,000 and you don’t have to be a British Gas customer. This includes the Individual and Families Debt Write Off Fund. 

You’ll need to seek help from your local money advice centre first and be able to show that you’ve thought about how you will manage your costs in the future. Apply for a grant and get advice from the British Gas Energy Trust through its website.

How to get the Scottish Power Hardship Fund

Scottish Power has a fund to help low-income households get their energy payments under control. It can help by clearing or reducing arrears by crediting a customer’s ScottishPower energy account.

How to get EDF Customer Support Fund

EDF provides support for individuals struggling to manage household energy debt through their customer support fund. You can apply here.

How to get E.ON Next Energy Fund

This fund could help you pay your current or final E.ON Next energy bills and potentially replace old appliances. You can apply on E.ON’s website.

How to get help to pay energy bills through the Octopus Octo Assist Fund

If you’re an Octopus customer, you can access its financial support form on its website. It asks you a series of questions about your financial situation. The company offers a number of support options including access to existing schemes, monetary support from the Octo Assist Fund, or a loan of a thermal imagery camera to find heat leaks at home.

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The Big Issue has a cost of living newsletter to help our readers navigate the cost of living crisis, bringing the latest news, money-saving tips, uplifting stories showing the strength of our communities and ways to take action on the issues you care about. Sign up here.

How to get charitable grants to help in the cost of living crisis

People who are struggling financially may be eligible for charitable grants. You can find out what grants might be available to you using Turn2Us’ grant search on the charity’s website. There are a huge range of grants available for different people – including those who are bereaved, disabled, unemployed, redundant, ill, a carer, veteran, young person or old person.

Grants are also usually available to people who have no recourse to public funds and cannot claim welfare benefits. Turn2Us helps people to access grants and support services if they’re in financial difficulty. If you contact the team, they’ll check what’s available to you. 

Glasspool gives small grants for things like white goods, beds, bedding, children’s clothing and baby needs. For most charitable grants, you need to get a referral from a professional like a social worker, health professional, school or advice service. 

Family Action provides practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country.

How to get cost of living help from your council

If you are unable to pay your bills, your local council may have a scheme that can help you. Local councils may be able to give you debt advice, help you get hold of furniture and support you through food and fuel poverty. Your council may also have a local welfare assistance scheme, also known as crisis support. 

You can also find out what support your council offers through End Furniture Poverty’s local welfare assistance finder or by contacting your local authority directly.

IFAN has a tool where you can search for the financial support offered in your local area based on your circumstances. It covers at least 120 local authorities in the UK. If you’re based in England, there’s also this map showing if you can get cash in times of crisis depending on where you live.

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How to get help finding a job in the cost of living crisis

At The Big Issue, we have launched a specialist recruitment service to open up job opportunities for people across the country. Big Issue Recruit is dedicated to supporting people, particularly those who traditionally face barriers to joining the workforce into sustainable employment. 

It is free to candidates, supporting individuals before, during and post-employment. You can search our database for thousands of jobs or you can become a candidate. Big Issue Recruit can match employers committed to recruiting a diverse workforce with candidates looking for rewarding careers.

You can also search and apply for jobs across a range of industries across the UK through the government’s Find a job website. You can use this to search for and find a job or apprenticeship opportunity. 

You can apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), worth up to £84.80 a week, to help you when you’re looking for work. You can also claim tax relief on money you’ve spent on things like work uniforms and clothing, tools, subscriptions or business travel. 

How to get help with transport costs

With fuel prices high, you might want to choose public transport instead of driving a car in the cost of living crisis. In England you can get a bus pass for free travel when you reach the State Pension age, and disabled people may be eligible for a disabled person’s pass. 

You can get up to a third off train fares with a railcard. These help young people, pensioners, families, couples, disabled people and veterans. You can find these on Railcard’s website.

How to get help from a food bank in the cost of living crisis

If you are struggling to buy food in the cost of living crisis, you can get help from a local food bank. You will usually need a referral from a support service or professional, such as Citizens Advice, your children’s school or a charity. If you’re not sure where to get a referral, your local council should be able to advise you.

You can find your local food bank through the Trussell Trust’s website or the IFAN’s member’s map. You can also call the Trussell Trust’s free helplines and talk to a trained adviser. It’s 0808 208 2138 if you live in England or Wales, and 0800 915 4604 if you live in Northern Ireland. You should contact your local council if you live in Scotland.

Find out more about getting help from your local food bank here. 

How to get help with your mortgage

Homeowners can get help towards interest payments on their mortgage, or any loans taken out on certain repairs and home improvements. Support for Mortgage Interest (SMI) is paid as a loan, so you’ll need to repay it with interest when you sell your home or give it to someone else. That means you’ll pay back more than you borrowed.

You usually need to be getting a qualifying benefit, such as universal credit or jobseeker’s allowance, to get the extra help. There’s no guarantee you’ll get SMI for your mortgage or any loans you take out. For example, if you get universal credit and any money from work, you won’t be offered SMI. You can ask your local Citizens Advice service if you’re not sure if you’d be eligible.

How to get help if you can’t afford your rent

You might be able to get grants or benefits to help you with the cost of renting if you can’t afford it, according to Citizens Advice. Your local council might be able to cover the cost of your deposit through a rent deposit scheme or rent guarantee scheme.

A deposit scheme lends you money in advance and you pay it back over time, and a guarantee scheme gives your landlord a written guarantee instead of a cash deposit. You might also be able to get a deposit through a homelessness prevention fund or social services. Contact your council directly to see what they can offer. 

You might also be able to get the housing benefit if you are on a low income and have savings of less than £16,000. It’s being replaced by universal credit, so you can only make a new claim for the housing benefit if you’ve reached state pension age or you’re in supported, sheltered or temporary housing. 

If not you may be able to claim universal credit instead to help with your housing costs. 

How to make extra money to help in the cost of living crisis

There are plenty of ways to make extra money in the cost of living crisis. They might only be a sticking plaster, but people are always looking for simple ways to get some extra cash. 

This includes downloading a cashback app like Airtime Rewards, which will help you save money off your mobile bill with O2, EE, Vodafone and others. All you need to do is link your bank card and then you just shop as normal at more than 150 retailers both in-store and online. 

You could also take part in online surveys, rent out your car parking space or get a credit card that pays you. Find out more ways to make extra money here. 

How to get advice and help around debt

StepChange

The cost of living crisis can mean debts rack up, and things feel unmanageable. StepChange is a charity which can help you manage these problems, as well as point you towards any help you’re entitled to.

The charity provides confidential and free expert advice on debt, as well as tips on budgeting, financial advice, and ways to prioritise your debts. There are a range of schemes and arrangements available, depending on your situation. StepChange has helped its clients repay £4bn, and has helped over five million people since 1993.

Its website can be found here.

Money Advice Trust

Another charity which can give you the advice you need to improve your situation is the Money Advice Trust, which operates a national debtline. This confidential service can help you either over the phone or via webchat.

It also runs the Business Debtline, which can help you if you’re a small business owner or self-employed. Alongside helping those experiencing debt and money issues, the Money Advice Trust also produces research and tries to change policy as part of its mission to “improve the UK’s money and debt environment”.

Find out more here.

Mental Health & Money Advice

Financial struggles are a common cause of stress and other mental health problems, with the cost of living crisis making that ever-more widespread. Launched by Mental Health & Money Advice, a new cost of living hub provides practical tips to lessen the strain of the crisis and maintain your mental wellbeing.

Help Through Hardship

Run by Citizens Advice and the Trussell Trust, which runs a network of food banks, Help Through Hardship is a free, confidential helpline. It can be reached on 0808 2082138, and is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The helpline is aimed at helping those struggling to pay for essential items such as toiletries or food. Within its first year, the helpline answered 30,000 calls and helped feed 15,000 children.

MoneyHelper

Run by the government, MoneyHelper provides advice on a range of money-related issues.

For example, it offers guidance to help you through the often-stressful situation of talking to a creditor about money you owe them. These conversations can help improve your situation and can lead to more flexible payment arrangements.

And if you’re using credit, there’s also advice on how to use it wisely. More and more people are turning to Buy Now Pay Later agreements as the cost of living crisis bites. Research by Forbes found that 70% of those using the arrangements were using them more frequently, with consumers aged 18 to 24 the most reliant on the services. MoneyHelper’s service offers advice if you’re using Buy Now Pay Later to pay for essentials such as food.

How to get cost of living help if you’re a student

Undergraduate students can get a loan to cover the full cost of their university tuition fees, worth up to £9,250. It’s slightly less if you go to a university in Wales, where they charge £9,000 a year. 

Undergraduate students can also get a maintenance loan to cover living costs. If you are living with your parents, the maximum loan you can get is £8,171. If you are living away from your parents, the maximum is £9,706 (or £12,667 if you are living in London).

The government has confirmed that maintenance loans will be increased by 2.8% for the 2023/24 academic year – which is much lower than inflation. 

Many look for other ways to cover their university costs. For example, you may be eligible for a scholarship bursary or grant. These don’t have to be repaid so they’re definitely worth a look, even if you don’t think you would be eligible. 

Have a look at your university’s website, or contact their financial support team, to see what scholarships and bursaries they offer. There is a real range, and you can find some based on academic, musical or sporting achievements and others based on your personal circumstances and background. 

Find out more about getting financial help if you’re a student here.

How to reduce your water bill to help with the cost of living

Water bills in England and Wales increased by 7.5% last April, the biggest rise in almost 20 years. The average household bill is now £448 for the year, according to Water UK. So here’s where to get help if you need it to pay your water bill. 

Get help from your supplier

Every water company has a social tariff scheme to help low-income families pay their bills. The level of support depends and who is eligible depends on your supplier. You can find a full list of suppliers and links to their hardship schemes on the Consumer Council for Water’s website – where you will also find other tips for saving money on your bills.  

Your supplier may also have a debt support scheme for customers who are finding it hard to pay their bills. These can reduce debt if customers stick to a payment plan. You will need to make payments against a pre-agreed payment plan set by your water company.

Water companies may also offer flexible payment plans or even ‘payment breaks’ if you are having short-term financial difficulties. Alternatively, your water company might have a financial hardship scheme – offering grants to people with debt and other financial difficulties. Check out your company’s website or get in touch with them for more information. 

WaterSure is a scheme which caps water bills and sewerage bills in England and Wales. But it is only available to people on means-tested benefits with a medical condition that means you use lots of water, or people on means-tested benefits with a large family with at least three children under 19. You also need to be on a water meter or be waiting to have one installed.

Eligible benefits include: universal credit, pension credit, housing benefit, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income support, income-related employment and support allowance, working tax credit and child tax credit.

Most water companies have their own version of the scheme which means bills are either capped or you get a significant discount on your bill. It means you will not pay more than the average water bill for metered properties in your area. 

To apply for WaterSure, you need to fill out a form from your water company. You will have to provide evidence of your medical condition and the effect it has on the water you use – such as a stamp from your GP or a doctor’s certificate. Check with your supplier about what evidence they may need. 

How to apply for the government’s Water Direct scheme

The DWP has a Water Direct scheme for people on certain benefits. It can help you stay on top of your bills if you are more than £50 behind on your payments.

The payment is taken from your benefits and goes directly to your water company.  It’s important to remember you will be receiving less money into your bank account as it will go directly to your supplier. 

But you may find it easier to manage your finances if bill payments are paid automatically – it can give you peace of mind knowing that your water bill is paid. It is only eligible for people who are in debt of £50 or more and have had two failed payment plans. 

You’ll also need to receive income support, jobseekers allowance, pension credit, ESA or universal credit. Contact your supplier if you think the scheme might help you manage your finances. 

Would you save money switching to a water meter?

Installing a water meter could save you money if you don’t already have one. This means you will only pay for what you use rather than the standard fixed rate. But if you use a lot of water, it might be cheaper to stay with the standard charge. You can use the Consumer Council for Water’s calculator and many companies have calculators on their website where you can work out if it would be cheaper for you to get a water meter installed. 

This would also mean you could look for ways to use less water – like using a washing up bowl instead of running the tap, only using your washing machine when it is full and ensuring you don’t have any water leaks. 

Where to get help with your mental health in the cost of living crisis

Mental health struggles often go hand in hand with money problems. One in four people who cannot afford their energy bills face depressive feelings, according to government statistics. 

Seeking help as soon as you can must be made a priority. We have plenty of tips on steps you can take to support your mental health in the cost of living crisis on our website

Mind, Anxiety UK, Mental Health UK and Samaritans also have advice and resources on their websites to help if you are struggling with your mental health in the cost of living crisis and beyond. 

It might help to speak to someone, whether that’s a loved one, a support worker, a health professional like your GP, or a helpline like Samaritans. Call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit the website.

You can find what support is available in your area on the NHS website. If you’re in need of urgent support, call 999. 

Find out how to support your mental health if you are struggling with money here

Where to get free toiletries in the cost of living crisis

Low-income families can get free toiletries through food banks charities, shelters and community organisations. You can speak to a healthcare professional and your local council about the support available near you. 

The Hygiene Bank is a UK-based charity that collects and distributes hygiene and personal care products to people in need. They work with food banks, homeless shelters, and community centres, to distribute the products. If you need help, the Hygiene Bank will try to signpost you to a partner organisation in its network that can support you.

You can also get free tampons, sanitary towels and other period products. Many community groups and charities provide free period products to those in need, including food banks, homeless shelters, hostels, women’s refuges and more. 

Find out more about where to get free toiletries here.

How to get free nappies and baby products

There are hundreds of baby banks across the UK where you can find free nappies, wipes, equipment, clothes and more for your baby or toddler. Find your local baby bank through Little Village’s interactive map

Your local health authority’s incontinence service may be able to supply items such as larger nappies, pads and bedding protection once your child is over a certain age. Talk to your GP or health visitor for more information. 

Low-income families could get a one-off payment of £500 to help towards the costs of having a baby in England and Wales, known as the Sure Start Maternity Grant. You must claim the grant within 11 weeks of the baby’s due date or within six months after the baby’s birth. In Scotland, you can get the Pregnancy and Baby Payment instead.

How to find get financial support for childcare to help with the cost of living

Families might be able to get extra help to cover the costs of childcare, which can often be extortionate. We explain some of the the support available in the articles below:

Where to find affordable childcare

One of the best ways to check affordable childcare options in your area is to visit your local council’s website for after school clubs and holiday clubs. You can also contact your local family information service via your council to find out what affordable childcare is available locally. The service offers free and impartial information about local events and services available to children, young people and families. 

A useful resource to find childminders and nannies near you is Koru Kids. There are options for full days of care, part time care and a mixture of both. These nannies are vetted, DBS checked and trained in childcare and first aid. You can also use the website Yoopies to find affordable childcare services (along with tutoring, pet care and cleaning while you’re at it). Prices range so you might have to search the database for the best childminder or nanny for you. 

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