2020 has been a strange year.
Many in our community may have found themselves better off. Working from home meant reduced travel costs and potential savings on childcare costs. We've also spent less on eating out, going out and other leisure activities. Holidays abroad may have been cancelled and staycations have been all the rage. According to data from credit reference agency Experian, their customers, on average, paid off nearly £2,000 each from their credit card debt between March and June. Borrowing was down and those owing more than £30,000 fell by a third during this period.
For others, 2020 has not brought such good news. Those who have been furloughed, on reduced pay or lost their jobs may be left struggling to pay for essentials and facing hardship and unmanageable debt.
Are you worried about your financial situation?
We’ve partnered with the Money Advice and Pensions Service and below you can access their Money Health Check tool.
Review your finances regularly
Whatever your circumstances, it helps to set a budget and keep a close eye on your finances. This is true whether you just want to get on top of your finances, start saving, reduce debt or if you’re on a reduced income and need to cover essential bills.
Reviewing your finances regularly helps you keep control of your money and build contingency into your plans.
Use our budget calculator to get a quick snapshot of your situation and signposting to further advice and support. If you want to draw up a more in-depth budget, use the Money Advice Service Budget planner. Gather together bank statements, bills and payslips before you start so you've got this information to hand.
Identifying potential cost savings
If, having reviewed your finances, it’s clear you're going to struggle to cover your essentials, go through your non-essential expenditure. Identify any areas where you could reduce costs, such as phone and media packages, insurance policies and subscriptions. Cancel those you don’t need or use. Before you go shopping plan your weekly meals and make a list. This helps to keep costs down. Keep an eye out for deals, especially on non-perishables.
If your income has reduced, check whether you're eligible for any additional help using the entitledto benefit calculator. You could also consider selling unwanted or unused items to raise emergency funds.
When budgeting, it’s important to prioritise your essential payments. Identify those where non-payment could have serious consequences, such as losing your home or disconnection of essential services. With winter approaching, you'll need to budget for an increase in fuel costs.
Fuel bills are a priority and, if you don't pay, your household supply could be disconnected. If you're struggling with fuel bills, or you already owe arrears, speak with your energy supplier and try to come to an arrangement about ongoing usage plus arrears.
Check your tariff
Many of us sign up to fixed-term tariff deals and then forget about them. Once these deals end, it's likely that you'll be moved onto a standard tariff, which invariably costs more. Use comparison sites to check the latest fuel deals and don’t be afraid to switch. Many suppliers offer incentives to new customers. Remember to compare the standing charge as well as unit tariffs.
Regular meter readings
If you don’t have a smart meter, make sure you provide your energy supplier with regular meter readings. This ensures that your bills reflect accurate figures and prevents 'over' or 'under' charging.
If you can, pay your bill by monthly direct debit – ideally with payments immediately after you've been paid or received any benefits. This helps to spread the cost and will make bills more manageable. If you’re on a pre-payment meter, top-up when you get paid to avoid being disconnected.
Help with bills
If you receive certain benefits and your supplier is in the scheme, you may be eligible for the Warm Home Discount. This provides a grant of £140 towards your electricity costs. Check your supplier’s website for further details. If you’re a pensioner, you can claim the winter fuel payment (up to £300 per person).
Some suppliers have energy trust funds any you may be able to apply for help towards energy arrears in cases of financial hardship.
Apply for help
As well as providing advice with managing money and debt, the Charity can also consider applications for financial assistance with fuel and other priority arrears. Our Money Advice and Guidance Service team can advise you on your options for dealing with debt and consider financial assistance if appropriate.
Don’t delay – get in touch now!