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Posted 09 April 2015

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Recent research found that some people are struggling to afford even the essentials, but what can you do if you can’t pay for food?

If payday seems like forever away, you’re managing too many payments and you just can’t afford to buy food, you might think about putting it on a credit card or taking out a payday loan to cover it. You wouldn’t be alone … recent research* carried out for us found that 12% of Brits borrowed money in the past month to pay for food.


Using credit so you can afford food or other essentials may seem like the only option, but there are other places that can help you. Borrowing money for the basics might solve the problem in the short term, but it’s usually a sign that you’re struggling to manage your finances, and doing so may well make the problem worse longer term.


If you can’t afford to feed your family you’ll be desperate to find a solution and borrowing money could seem like an easy way out. However, look at your other options first: for example you could get food from a foodbank. These have been set up to make sure no one has to go hungry. You can get a voucher to use, which will give you three days of nutritious food. Some of the things you can get from a foodbank include:

• UHT milk
• Fruit juice
• Cans of soup
• Jars of pasta sauce
• Boxes of cereal
• Tea bags or instant coffee
• Rice or pasta
• Tinned meat or fish
• Tinned fruit

You’ll have to be referred to be able to use a foodbank by your doctor, a social worker or health visitor, the police or someone from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Volunteers at the foodbank will also be on hand to give you financial advice.

Utility bills

If you’ve used your overdraft, a loan or credit card to meet your gas, electricity or water bill, you may be able to get help from the government instead. The Warm Home Discount scheme gives you a one-off discount on your electricity bill, providing your energy supplier is signed up to the scheme. You’ll automatically qualify if you’re on Pension Credit, but some suppliers will offer help for people on low incomes or who are disabled. Older people can also get the Winter Fuel Payment to help with their energy bills, or you could get a Cold Weather Payment if you’re on certain benefits.


To help cover your rent you could apply for a Budgeting Loan from the government. You’ll be able to apply for £348 if you’re single, £464 if you’re in a couple or £812 if you have kids. Budgeting Loans are interest-free, so you’ll only owe what you originally borrow, and you’ll have two years to pay this back.


If you are borrowing to pay for essentials such as food, utilities or rent, you may need to re-order your spending. These items are all “priority bills" and you should put money aside to cover them, and other items such as travel to work and council tax, first. You may find if you do this you can cover your essential living costs but don’t have enough left over to cover other items such as loan or credit card repayments.


Don’t been tempted to borrow more money to cover existing debt repayments … whilst this may provide some short term relief, things will be worse a few weeks down the line when you have to meet the repayments on even more borrowing than you already have.


Instead, either speak to your lenders directly and tell them you are in financial difficulties. Or, if you prefer, consider talking through your problems with a debt expert. You’ll be able to find out about the different debt solutions that are available or even just how you could budget your household spending a bit better. Whatever sort of help you need, talking about your issues is the first step on the road to getting your finances back under control.

*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 16th March and 26th March 2015, of whom 500 were Scottish residents.

by Emily Bancroft

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To find out more about managing your money and getting free debt advice, visit Money Advice Service, an independent service set up to help people manage their money.