19 Nov 2021

What benefits you can claim and other ways to increase your income

f your household income is squeezed, this guide will tell you how to claim any benefits you’re entitled to, find extra sources of income and understand the support available to help you manage household bills and save money. 

What’s in this guide

Do a benefits check

It’s easy to think you might be earning too much to claim benefits. Or if you’re already getting benefits, you might not realise you could be entitled to extra support.   

But around £10 billion in benefits goes unclaimed every year, so it’s always worth taking another look.

Check out our Benefits section for what you could get if you’re:

  • facing redundancy or you’ve lost your job for any other reason
  • self-employed or in work on a low income
  • need help with housing costs
  • having a baby or bringing up children
  • sick and unable to work or have a disability or a long-term health condition
  • a carer
  • an older person.
Use the free benefits calculator on the Policy in Practice website(Opens in a new window) to quickly find out what you might be entitled to and how much you could get

If you live in Northern Ireland, find out more about what benefits and financial support you might be entitled to at nidirect(Opens in a new window)

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Help with gas and electricity costs

Beware of switching

Energy prices are currently very high. Many people are looking to find a cheaper deal, however, it’s likely your supplier’s standard default tariff rate set at the energy price cap by regulator Ofgem will be the cheapest rate available.  

This means the average household in England, Wales and Scotland will pay no more than £1,971 a year (£2,017 if you’re on a prepayment tariff) on their gas and electricity provider’s default (also called standard variable) tariff. 

Bear in mind you could pay more or less than this if your energy use is greater or lower. 

If you’re currently on a fixed-rate tariff, you’ll be moved to your provider’s standard variable tariff when the fixed term ends. At the moment there are no new fixed-rate energy tariffs cheaper than the energy price cap.  

Find out more in our guide What to do if you’re worried about your energy bills rising

Each year you can apply for the Warm Home Discount Scheme, and if you’re successful you’ll save £150 on your annual energy bill. 

If you’re on certain benefits you should automatically receive Cold Weather Payments when the temperature in your area is 0°C or below for 7 days or more. 

Energy-Efficiency Grants

If you want to make some changes to your home to cut your power bills, you can go green and reduce the amount of energy you use. You might be able to get help towards the costs.

Find out more about energy-saving grants and offers on the  Energy Saving Trust website(Opens in a new window) or in our guide How to pay for home improvements

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Help with phone and broadband costs

Phone and broadband are essential if you’re job seeking or even just want to find the best deals to help save you money, as online offers are often cheaper, and you can use comparison sites to check tariffs and prices. 

To help you stay digitally connected, some providers offer low-cost  plans if you’re getting certain income-related benefits, including: 

  • Universal Credit 
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pension Credit  
  • Employment and Support Allowance.

Find out who offers low-cost tariffs and how providers can help you get on the best plan for your needs in our guide Help if you’re struggling with mobile, TV or broadband bills.

Find out how to save money in our guides:
Save money on your mobile phone
How to save money on your home phone and broadband
How to switch broadband providers

There are several cheap SIM only contracts with mobile data, which could be better value than a broadband package and they usually offer faster connections.

Find out more in our guide How to save money on your mobile phone

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Help with other bills and payments

It’s always a good idea to review all your bills and payments to see if you can save money by switching providers or moving onto cheaper plans.

See our guide How to save money on household bills 

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What can you claim if you’re working and on a low income?

Check your payslip

If you’re employed, make sure you check your payslip to see you’re on the right tax code and being paid at or above the National Minimum Wage.

Find out more about tax codes in our guide Understanding your payslip 

Check if you’re being paid correctly and find out what to do if you’re being paid less than you should be in our guide on National Minimum wage.

Taking on other work

If you’re able to take on the extra hours, you could earn money from a second job.

Read everything you need to know in our guide Second job tax and pay  

Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card

When you’ve been claiming certain income-related benefits – including Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit – for three months, you’re entitled to a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card.

You can get half-price rail tickets and discounts on selected bus services for six months (18-24-year olds) or nine months (over 25s).

You can apply for a Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card at your local Jobcentre Plus. Find out more about contacting JobCentre Plus at GOV.UK(Opens in a new window)

Find out more about the Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card, and other support with transport costs at GOV.UK(Opens in a new window)

Flexible Support Fund

You might be able to use the Flexible Support Fund to help with the cost of travelling to interviews and training or with extra costs you might have in the first months of starting a new job. 

You can also apply to pay for upfront costs if you need to secure a childcare place.

Find out more about the Flexible Support Fund on the  Turn2us website(Opens in a new window)

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Apply for a charitable grant

Many charities, professional, faith and other local organisations offer grants. You usually don’t have to pay the money back.

To find out if you might be eligible use the ‘Search for grants’ tool on the Turn2us website(Opens in a new window)

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Check insurance cover

If you’ve lost your job or can’t work because of ill health or an accident you might have insurance cover you’ve forgotten about that might offer income protection.

If you’ve got a mortgage, check if you took out any policies to cover payments. Also, some bank accounts offer add-on packages of insurance.

Your workplace may offer support if you have an accident or long-term illness. Check your staff handbook to find out.

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Rent out a spare room

If you have a spare bedroom in your home, you might want to consider renting it out under the Rent a Room scheme, which lets you earn up to £7,500 a year in rental income without paying tax on it. 

You don’t have to be a homeowner to take advantage of the scheme. If you’re renting you can also let out a room to a lodger, if your tenancy agreement allows you to do so.

If you’re on Universal Credit you can earn up to the £7,500 limit without it affecting your payment. 

Find out more in our guide Rent a room scheme how it works and tax rules

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Help to pay for essential things

Budgeting advances and budgeting loans

Are you getting certain income-related benefits and need help to pay for essentials like clothing, furniture or a rent deposit? Then you might be able to apply for a Budgeting Loan or Budgeting Advance if you’re getting Universal Credit. 

But you’ll need to have been claiming Universal Credit for at least six months before you can apply.

Find out more in our guide Universal Credit advance payments and other help

Support to help you get through a crisis

If you’re facing an emergency such as broken washing machine or you need urgent help with food, clothing and energy bills and are vulnerable, there might be local help available. 

If you live in England, the Household Support Fund (also known as Discretionary crisis support scheme or Local Welfare Assistance) is currently available to vulnerable families or if you’re on low income and can be used if you’re struggling with everyday bills and expenses like:

  • gas or electricity bills
  • broadband or phone bills
  • clothing
  • essential transport costs such as repairing a car, buying a bicycle or paying for fuel.

Get in touch with your local council to see if they have a welfare assistance scheme. You can also find help available in your area on the End Furniture Poverty websiteOpens in a new window

There are separate schemes available if you’re living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

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Financial help during the coronavirus pandemic

Test and Trace Support Payment

From 24 February 2022, the Test and Trace Support Payment is no longer available if you live in England. 

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and are told to self-isolate, you can still get support if you can’t work from home and are claiming:

  • Universal Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Pension Credit, or
  • Housing Benefit.

In Scotland, this is called the Self-Isolation Support Grant and is worth £500.

In Wales, it’s called a self-isolation payment and is worth £750.

In Northern Ireland, it’s called a Discretionary Support Self-Isolation Grant, and you can find out more about it on the NI Direct website(Opens in a new window)

Your local authority will make this payment.

You will have to show proof of your employment to qualify and checks will be carried out to confirm you’re unable to work from home.

Find out more about the Test and Trace Support Scheme:
If you live in Scotland, understand what the self-isolation grant is at mygov.scot
If you live in Wales, for the self-isolation support scheme visit gov.wales

Refugees and asylum seekers

Refugees might be entitled to an integration loan to pay for housing, household items, education and work training.

Find out more about the refugee integration loan at  GOV.UK (Opens in a new window)

Asylum seekers might be able to claim asylum support for housing, education and access to the National Health Service (NHS).

Find out more about asylum support at  GOV.UK

The Refugee Council offers free advice and information for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

To find help near you use the directory on the  Refugee Council website(Opens in a new window)

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Prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing

Living on a low income, particularly if it’s caused by an income shock such as job loss, bereavement or relationship breakdown, can be very stressful and affect your ability to deal with problems when so much is else is going on in your life.

Experiencing physical or mental health problems might also mean you struggle to manage your money. 

It’s important to remember there’s a lot of help available to manage your finances if you’re struggling.

You can find practical tips on how to manage financially and where to get free specialist help in our guide Money problems and mental wellbeing

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Contact your creditors

Letting the people or company you owe money to know sooner rather than later that you’re having difficulties will enable them to put support in place for you. 

If you’re struggling with money or worried about falling into debt, your options might include: 

  • reviewing bill payment plans, including any debt you might be repaying  in instalments 
  • payment breaks, or reductions in how much you pay 
  • having longer to repay what you owe  
  • moving to a different tariff 
  • lowering your spending cap 
  • access to hardship funds (in exceptional cases) .

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Where to get free help and advice

If your problem is complex, Advicelocal can help you find free and impartial advice(Opens in a new window) in your area on:

  • Benefits
  • Council Tax
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Disability and social care
  • Asylum and immigration.

If you’ve missed payments on bills or loans, now is the time to get free debt advice.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.

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