If you’re struggling on a low income, there’s a lot more cash out there to help than you may think. Charities, the Government and even companies often have funds which are available to help, especially if you’ve got children.
Millions of pounds' worth of these grants, loans and tax credits go unclaimed, so the aim of this guide is to take you through them and see if there’s any help available to you.
Other Grant Grabbing Guides
What is a grant?
A grant is money, or a voucher, that contributes towards the cost of you buying something. Although it may not cover the full cost of the item, meaning you’ll have to cough up the rest yourself, it's almost always completely free.
Grants are usually offered to encourage people to do or buy something they wouldn’t normally consider.
Most tend to be for specific suppliers, which can mean even after the grant, it isn’t necessarily the cheapest place - so always check if you can get it cheaper somewhere else. See the Online Shopping guide and look for ideas, or ask your own question on the Benefits and Tax Credits forum.
Top 'Low Income' Grants
Both the Government grants and hundreds from small charities are available for individuals on a low income for all kinds of help. Sometimes they are open to all and, randomly, they can even depend on your surname or where you live.
Check the following to see if you are eligible for help with costs or can increase your income ...
Do a charity grant search
Hundreds of small charities give grants to individuals, from one-off sums to help with things like furniture, decorating or ways to improve quality of life (eg, holidays or training) to regular amounts to help cover bills and household expenses.
The grants usually depend on an individual's circumstances, maybe any illnesses they have or their nationality, occupation, age or income.
Charity-run website Turn2us has an easy-to-use grant search which tells you how to contact any suitable charities directly, or you can register for a free account to send online enquiries and applications to charities through the site. Here are some grant success stories to give you some inspiration:
I got all sorts of different grants to enable my daughter to study ballet from the age of 11 - 18 years, although it took time to trawl through all of the grants.
I have a disabled son and have had a £500 grant to be used on a Haven holiday. The holiday was £400 and they let me convert the rest of the money into family fund vouchers to spend on the park including meals out and swimming activities.
Claiming Jobseeker's Allowance?
Each Jobcentre Plus has a little-known 'Flexible Support Fund' to help support jobseekers looking for work.
Each centre decides how to use their fund which can include things like costs of transport, childcare, work clothes, tools and more (during the job search or to enable you to accept an offer of employment) if an advisor believes it'll make the transition into work easier. As your local office if it provides any help.
The cash can be requested for any reasonable expense yet no one has a right to the money - it’s completely at the discretion of each advisor, who will look for specific needs. If you think it’ll help you, speak to an advisor at your local Jobcentre Plus.
Want to work in the arts?
If you live in England and want to work as an artist, the Arts Council gives National Lottery grants throughout the year to help artists carry out their work, including writers, presenters and producers.
If you are more musically minded, Making Music aims to help young professional musicians at the beginning of their careers by giving bursaries and prizes in both the voluntary and professional sector.
Holidays for disabled people
Small charity 3H Fund has a grant scheme to help disabled adults and children (whether physically or mentally disabled), on a low income, along with their families and carers, to take a short break in the UK. Maximum awards vary.
Home improvement grants
If you're elderly, disabled or on a low income your local Home Improvement Agency (HIA) may help you to repair, improve, maintain or adapt your home.
There are around 300 not-for-profit, locally-based HIAs around the country that can help in varying ways. Assistance can include putting together flat-pack furniture or looking after your garden. Search for your nearest on Foundations (or Care and Repair Cymru in Wales).
Alternatively, the Turn2us grant search can help you check for charities that might be able to help with things like furniture, decorating or bills and household expenses. The grants usually depend on an individual's circumstances, any illnesses or their nationality, occupation, age or income - see above for more.
Free cash to help pay for utility arrears
As well as grants to make your home more energy-efficient, some utility companies also offer help if you have large arrears on your gas, electricity or water bills. Please let us know if you have success with any of these schemes.
Three providers offer an Energy Trust scheme for their account holders in hardship, to help cover energy arrears and sometimes other essential household items. Essential items are covered by Further Assistance Payments and can include white goods, boiler repairs or funeral costs. Those who live in a home supplied by the provider, but are not account holders, can apply for the Further Assistance Payments only.
You need to complete a full income and expenditure budget sheet along with proof of your income, give details on how your arrears have built up, eg, due to illness or redundancy, and say how the grant will help you. It can take several weeks to process your claim but can give £1,000+ in support.
Links: British Gas Energy Trust / EDF Energy Trust / Npower Energy Fund
For other providers or general advice, Homeheat is a not-for-profit phone line that gives advice on grants (both for energy arrears and insulation), benefits, reduced tariffs, special payment options and energy saving tips to people struggling to pay their bills and keep warm. You can call 0800 33 66 99 or check the Homeheat website for info.
Also see the Cheapest Gas & Electricity guide.
The Water UK website has info on all the water company schemes. Help from all providers includes WaterSure (see below), referrals to hardship funds and help in applying for direct payment from benefits (Water Direct).
If you're on a meter and a means-tested benefit, and either have three or more children under the age of 19 or someone in the household with a medical condition needing lots of water, you could get help from the WaterSure scheme which caps your bills at the average for your area.
Some providers also offer other special tariffs and/or New Start/Restart (name depends on where you live), a scheme that can match payments or write off some of your debt if you enter an arrears payment plan.
Also see the Cut Water Bills guide.
Some means-tested benefits recipients (eg income support, iESA, iJSA and pension credit) can get BT's specialbasic tariff for £14.40/quarter (rather than per month).
The package includes £4.50 worth of calls to landlines and free weekend calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers up to 60 minutes, although it can be costly after (10.7p a minute, plus 3.1p for each phone call, for normal calls).
The tariff lets you make and receive calls as well as stopping certain calls being made, eg, mobile or Premium Rate numbers. You can also call to check your bill amount at any time, or check online, helping to keep costs down and budget for your bills.
Also see the Cheap Home Phones guide.
You may be entitled to benefits
While this one isn't a grant, it's still well worth checking. The benefits net spreads much wider than you think. In rare circumstances households with income in 2012/13 under £72,000 may be eligible, so read the full Five Minute Benefit Check-Up article to see if you should make a claim.
Once you are entitled to certain benefits (usually Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker's Allowance or Pension Credit, but you may be eligible without these so do check) this can lead to other grants, although the pot of money is sometimes limited. Get more info on these grants from your local Jobcentre or benefits office.
Cold Weather Payments: These help with gas and electricity costs during cold weather. Cold Weather Payments are different from Winter Fuel Payments which are made every winter to people over 60 regardless of the temperature. Find out more on Gov.uk.
Community Care Grant: These can help pay for certain items or expenses that you cannot afford to pay out of your normal income or ease exceptional pressure on you or your family. More on Gov.uk.
Mobility Grants: If you are disabled and need a car to get around, the Mobility Scheme from Motability may be able to give financial help for driving lessons or to replace or adapt your car.
Reclaim & complain
There are a few ways which may be able to provide you with interest-free borrowing rather than getting commercial debt.
Local council support schemes: From April 2013 each local authority is responsible for providing help to its residents struggling with an emergency, such as you or your families’ health being at risk, not being able to afford to buy food, needing help to stay in your own home and coming out of care, hospital or prison.
Sadly this is a postcode lottery, each council can choose whether to offer financial help or not or who is eligible. For example, some may give furniture or food grants while others may give cash. Contact your local council or just Google "www.yourarea.gov.uk" to find out it's procedure.
Budgeting loans and advances: This is a government scheme providing interest free loans to those on certain income-based benefits if you need essential items for your home or other things that you cannot pay for in a lump sum, such as clothes and furnishings.
Apply for one via the Jobcentre or via the form on Gov.uk (if you're in Northern Ireland, use NIdirect). If you have means to get money any other way (using savings, for example), you won't qualify. Up to £1,500 can be borrowed at one time for each loan and repayments are dependent on what you can afford to pay.
Sadly demand is extremely high at the moment and there isn't a bottomless pot of money, so if the council or Jobcentre decides your circumstances aren't urgent or you're not struggling, you may not get anything. But if you think you qualify and really need the cash, it's definitely worth a shot. Find full info and how to apply in the Debt Help guide.
Grants for low income families
On top of the grants above, if you have, or are having children, check to see if you're eligible for any of these additional grants.
Recently had a child?
If you're on certain benefits (Income Support, iJSA, iESA, full Child Tax Credit), the Sure Start Maternity Grant will give £500 to help buy clothes and equipment for a new-born baby if it's your first child.
You must apply between 11 weeks before and three months after the birth. Check for the latest info on Gov.uk.
Kids at primary or secondary school?
Some local councils help with the cost of school clothing and footwear (around £30 for primary and £80 for secondary school gear) and can provide lunches, milk or fruit and vegetables to your kids while they are at school.
It may also help cover transport costs if you live a certain distance away from the school. Use Gov.uk to find what your local council offers.
Help with childcare
Working parents can boost their budget by huge amounts in the form of Childcare Tax Credits and free classes (for three and four years olds or all ages and during the school holidays).
The average payout for Childcare Tax Credits is around £60/week, that's £3,000/year. Many families are missing out on £1,000s of cash.
See the Childcare Costs guide for full details.
Families with disabled children
If you've got a disabled child (17 or under) who lives at home and receive certain benefits (eg, Income Support or Child Tax Credit), the Family Fund has grants to help make life easier. These can be used on things such as washing machines, driving lessons, computers and holidays.
Music grants for under 19s
The Christine Brown Trust provides funding to under 19s in the UK who are budding musicians but in a low income family, to help towards the costs of learning a musical instrument.
This is aimed at those already to a high level rather than complete beginners, but money can be used for an instrument, lessons or any other learning costs you may need help to cover.
As a Yorkshire based charity, priority is given to those who live locally, but you may be accepted if you live elsewhere.
Families on a low income or benefits
Family Action, a charity that supports families, has small grants of around £100 to £300 for those that meet one of its priority areas (mental health, domestic abuse, refugees and asylum seekers, sickness/disability, aged 19-25 or over 60).
It only takes applications in January, April, June and October. Grants can help with general household costs (such as clothing, beds, electric items) and medical equipments.
It also has a scheme offering holidays for women and their children who live in London. Read more about the welfare grants on the Family Action website.
Check for tax credits
This one isn't a grant, but it's well checking if you're eligible. Tax credits are simply a payout made regularly into your bank account from the state to support those with children or in work but with a low income.
The credits are paid via the tax office, and anyone aged over 16 who normally lives in the UK can apply to get them. Many people are eligible for £1,000s - the Tax Credits guide has full details on how to check.
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Grants to help you pay for things