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What to do if you can’t afford bills

If you’re struggling to pay bills - such as energy bills, rent, internet or council tax - there are steps you can take to make things easier.

This post is relevant for everybody finding it hard to pay bills, whether you a worried about an upcoming bill, your account has been handed to a debt collector, or if you are already on a payment plan but it’s not working for you.

1. Don’t ignore the problem

It can be tempting to ignore it and stick your head in the sand, but this will only make things worse.

Don’t ignore bills or letters about money that you owe.

Taking that first step to manage your debt can be hard, but when you do you will start to feel more in control, less stressed, and you will find something that works for you long term.

2. Contact your creditor

Get in touch with the company, or debt collector, that you owe money to as soon as possible.

Be upfront and honest with them about your situation. You’ll normally find that they are understanding. They might let you:

  • Pay smaller amounts
  • Take a break from payments.

Some companies have schemes in place to help their customers in financially vulnerable circumstances.

For example, many energy providers have grants and schemes in place for their customers in need.

3. Ask about ‘breathing space’

If you are struggling to make payments, most lenders and debt collectors will give you at least 30 days ‘breathing space’ to give you time to come up with a plan.

Breathing space usually means that:

  • Your creditor will halt all communications with you
  • Enforcement action cannot be taken against you
  • Interest or charges may be paused for this time

You should contact your lender to request breathing space.

If you live in England or Wales, you can also use the government’s Breathing Space (Debt Respite Scheme) which will give you temporary protection for up to 60 days, plus another 30 if you’re getting mental health crisis treatment. To apply for this Breathing Space scheme you need to talk to a debt adviser.

4. Consider free debt advice

Debt advice is free, impartial and confidential.

You can find a comprehensive list of debt advisors, including StepChange and Citizens Advice here:

Debt advisors will be able to:

  • Provide suggestions on how to deal with your money problems
  • Put a budget together
  • Build a personalised action plan
  • Work out priority spendings
  • Submit a breathing space application on your behalf
  • Set up a debt management plan
  • Set up an IVA

You will not be forced to take any actions - debt advisors simply give impartial suggestions on the best way to manage your money.

StepChange offers a useful tool for understanding the kind of advice or guidance you might like to consider.

5. Check what help you can get

Benefits and grants

You should check if there are benefits you can claim, or if you can increase your current benefits.

You can find out what grants and schemes might be available to you on Turn2Us. Citizens Advice and your local council will be able to help you apply.

Help from your local council

Via the Household Support Fund, your local council will be able to help with things like:

  • Energy and water bills
  • Food
  • Housing costs
  • Sanitary products
  • Essential transport-related costs (such as repairing a car, buying a bicycle or paying for fuel)
  • Clothing
  • Repairs to cooking and heating appliances
  • Blankets

You should apply by contacting your local council:

Cost of living payments

The cost of living payments are there to help customers struggling with bills. They include:

  • A one-off payment of £650 for those on certain means-tested benefits
  • A one-off £300 top-up for pensioners in receipt of winter fuel payments
  • A one-off £150 payment for those on certain non-means tested disability benefits

They will be paid automatically to people in receipt of certain benefits, so you should check that you are receiving all the benefits you are entitled to.

6. Avoid the loan trap

It’s usually more expensive to take out a loan to cover bills that you’re struggling to pay, since you’ll have to pay extra costs such as interest. It’s also bad idea to put bills on your credit card, for the same reason.

You should instead contact the company you owe and consider free debt advice.

7. Always take care of your mental health

Worrying about bills can take a huge toll on mental health, so make sure to look after yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Remember that you are not alone and support is available.

  • The NHS offer help for mental health problems
  • Mind is a wonderful mental health charity
  • Samaritans run a free 24/7 hotline on 116 123

How we help at Ophelos

We are here to support you every step of the way on your journey out of debt. If we have contacted you about an outstanding balance, please don’t ignore it - we are here to help.

If you cannot afford your bills, we will be happy to explore options such as delaying your payments, revising your payment plan, offering breathing space or referring you to a debt advisor.

Just get in touch.

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