Ocado to axe 'Low Price Promise' from February
28 January 2021
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, this guide takes you through what you might be able to get.
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.
Both 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, but randomly, sometimes they are only available to a certain group of people and can even depend on your surname or where you live.
Check the following to see if you are eligible for help with costs or increase your income ...
Hundreds of small charities give grants to individuals, from one-off sums to help with things such as furniture, decorating, clothing 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.
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 such as cost of transport, childcare, work clothes, tools and more (during the job search or to enable you to accept an offer of employment) if an adviser believes it'll make the transition into work easier. Ask 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 adviser, who will look for specific needs. If you think it'll help you, speak to an adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus.
If you live in England and want to work as an artist, the Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants gives National Lottery grants throughout the year to help artists carry out their work, including writers, actors and musicians.
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.
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.
There are about 200 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.
Alternatively, the Turn2us grant search can help you check for charities that might be able to help with things such as 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 on Turn2us.
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.
Some 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.
There are also companies who offer grants specifically for their customers: Npower Energy Fund, Scottish Power Hardship Fund, OVO Energy Fund, SSE Priority Assistance Fund - check eligibility by calling 0800 072 8616.
For other providers or general advice, contact Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 (for England and Wales), Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282 (for Scotland) or the Bryson Energy Advice Line on 0800 142 2865 (for Northern Ireland).
Also see the Housing and Energy Grants guide for discounts and grants to help you pay for heating, and the Free Insulation and Boilers guide to see if you qualify for help making energy efficient home improvements.
Water UK's 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 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.
If you're in receipt of income support, income-based ESA, income-based JSA, pension credit or universal credit (and you've no earnings), you can get BT's special basic tariff for around £5/month.
The package includes £1.50 worth of calls to landlines and free weekend calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers up to 60 minutes. However, normal landline calls are costly (12p a minute, plus 21p set up fee for each phone call).
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.
If you need broadband as well you can get its Basic+Broadband package which costs £9.95/month including basic line rental for which you get 12GB at up to 17Mb/s.
Also see the Cheap Broadband guide.
Some charities give grants for white goods – large household items such as cookers and fridges – to families in financial hardship, though you may need to meet other eligibility criteria, too.
Alternatively, you can google the name of your area and white goods, eg "Barnet white goods", to get more info on locally available help. Many councils offer local welfare assistance schemes, but you may need to be claiming specific benefits to qualify.
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 64 regardless of the temperature. Find out 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.
Local council support schemes: 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 and 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", eg www.barnet.gov.uk, to find out its 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 at the Jobcentre or via the form on Gov.uk. 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.
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.
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.
If you're on certain benefits (Income Support, iJSA, iESA, full Child Tax Credit), the Sure Start Maternity Grant could 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 six months after the birth.
If you're pregnant or have a child under four years old, you can take part in the Healthy Start scheme. It provides vouchers of £3.10 per week towards milk, fruit and vegetables and infant formula milk. You can also get vitamin coupons.
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.
See the Childcare Costs guide for full details and eligibility criteria.
If you've got a disabled child (17 or under) who lives at home and you receive certain benefits (eg, income support or universal credit), the Family Fund has grants to help make life easier. These can be used on things such as washing machines, computers and holidays.
The Christine Brown Trust provides funding to under-19s in the UK who are budding musicians but come from a low-income family, to help towards the cost of learning a musical instrument.
This is aimed at those already at 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.
Clever ways to calculate your finances