Practical and emotional advice when you are in debt

Not having enough money to pay important bills like rent, council tax, gas and electricity can be stressful. Your health can also suffer if you’re not eating properly or keeping warm. While it’s easy to get into debt, it’s more difficult to get out.

The most important thing is to talk about your situation with someone you trust. This could be a family member, friend or someone at work. They could help you contact your local authority, landlord or creditors. You should also speak to a debt advisor. You might not think so, but talking about your debt can help.

Warning Talk to someone

Do not face debt alone. There will be many others in the same situation as you. Talking to someone you trust will help.

Managing debt and stress

First, prioritise your debts. Write down which debts are:

  • Priority - not paying these will cause serious problems. They include Council Tax, TV licence, child maintenance, income tax, fuel bills, mortgage or rent.
  • Emergency - usually priority debt that you’ve been unable to pay or ignored. These can result in eviction, rent arrears or having your gas or electricity cut off.
  • Non-priority - these usually have creditors. You will need to work out a repayment plan for these. They include overdrafts, bank loans, credit card or store card bills and money borrowed from friends and family.

Warning Emergency debt

Seek help before you get into emergency debt.

Contact a debt advisor

It’s important to get good advice. Call a debt advisor who will be able to give free advice on paying priority debts or when you’re faced with a debt emergency.

You could try:

If your landlord is a housing association or local authority, tell them if you are struggling to pay your rent. It’s worth asking if they can offer a solution.

Christians Against Poverty have caseworkers who will contact creditors on your behalf.

Ask your local authority if they have a Welfare Rights Service which can take up your case.

Warning Debt advice is free

You should not have to pay for debt advice. Ask your debt advisor if the service is free. If it’s not, look for someone else.

Non-priority debt

Non-priority debts are those you could pay off a little at a time. You could still be taken to court for not paying, but it’s less likely than for a priority debt.

Contact each person or organisation you owe money to and explain your situation. They’ll be able to tell you the minimum amount you need to pay each month.

Paying off non-priority debts (Money Advice Service)

Reducing debt

To reduce your debt, you need to make savings where possible and plan to make regular payments to your creditors. But you need to look after your mental and physical health too. So not eating because you have to pay a gas bill is not a good plan.

If you’re claiming benefits, check with a welfare rights advisor (welfarerights.net) that you’re receiving everything you’re entitled to. Speak to a debt advisor who will be able to help you with a payment plan. 

Online support from Moneysavingexpert on debt problems.

Check your benefits online.

Free advice on taking control of debt (Money Advice Service)

Emotional support

People get into debt for different reasons. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you share your concerns with someone you trust.

Talking about money can be difficult, but so is keeping it to yourself.

If your friends and family are unaware of your money worries, they might expect you to join them for days out, meals in restaurants or drinks in a bar. If you keep saying ‘yes’, you’ll get further into debt.

Try doing things together that are free. It’s important for your mental health to forget about your debt worries for a while. Visit each other’s homes for tea. Go to the local park or nearby green spaces. Many museums and places of interest are free to visit.

When you’re in debt, your mental health can suffer so it’s important you maintain friendships, get exercise and fresh air. Look for local groups to join, such as a choir or gardening club, or other free leisure activity. Your library could also offer advice about local groups.

If your debt worries do start to affect your health, visit your GP. They may be able to refer you to help.

Find a community support group or organisation (GOV.UK).

Last reviewed by Scope on: 22/01/2019

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