Difficult economic times - How we can help
Brentwood Borough Council and its partners offer a range of services to help residents and businesses who might be struggling to cope if you are facing difficult economic times.
Many homes are now facing financial difficulties due to increases in the cost of heating and fuel, and this page offers some simple tips to try to help you manage.
Many organisations offer free and independent money advice such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Shelter, Money Advice, and Step Change (formerly the Consumer Credit Counselling Service). These organisations can help you assess your financial situation and work out the best course of action for you. For details of organisations that can help, see Useful numbers.
Remember, pay your priority debts first. There are some debts you need to pay first before others, because the consequences of not paying them can be severe. Your Council Tax, your rent or your mortgage are priority debts. Mortgage or rent debts are a priority as if you don’t pay these you could lose your home. Debt advisers can help you plan your budget and pay your priority debts first. They can make repayment arrangements with lower priority creditors.
The Consumer Credit Counselling Service is now known as Step Change. Step Change have a national helpline 0800 138 1111. This number is free to call from all UK phones, including mobile phones. They are open Monday to Friday 8am-8pm and on Saturday 8am-4pm.
www.adviceguide.org.uk is a free and simple self help tool from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Maximise your income; are you getting all the money you're entitled to?
You may be entitled to benefits or tax credits such as Pension Credit that you haven't claimed. Working Tax Credit is an in-work benefit, which is not just available to people with children. You might be able to get it if you work enough hours and are disabled or your income is low enough; even if you don't have children. You may be able to get Council Tax Benefit or Housing Benefit to help you pay your council tax and rent. You don't necessarily have to be out of work to get these benefits. You can talk to a Customer Service Adviser by calling the Benefits Helpline: 01277 312831 (Monday to Thursday: 9am –5pm, Friday 9am-4.30pm)
You may be able to get help with your health costs such as prescription charges and dental costs. You may be able to claim help with education costs such as school meals and clothing.
You may be able to get a grant to help you pay for things like fitting home insulation and improving energy efficiency. This can help cut down the fuel bills.
Your gas and electricity supplier may be able to help you if you have fuel debts. To find out if you can get help, visit the British Gas Energy Trust website at: www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk or the EDF Energy Trust website at: www.edfenergytrust.org.uk.
There are also some charities that give grants to people to help pay their bills or buy essential items. You can find a list of these charities on the Turn 2 Us website at: www.turn2us.org.uk.
An adviser can help you maximise your income. For details of organisations that can help, go to the back of this leaflet.
Make savings on your household expenses
Look carefully at your spending and see if there is anything you are able to cut down on. For example, you could shop around for a cheaper gas or electricity provider, or look at cheaper mortgage or insurance providers.
Moneysavingexpert.com provides support and advice on changing credit card providers, fuel suppliers and details of which bank and building society accounts are currently offering the best deal for savers.
To find out more about how to save money on financial products such as mortgages and insurance, go to the website of financial watchdog the Financial Services Authority at: www.fsa.gov.uk
Housing: Don’t Lose Your Home!
Make sure you pay your rent or mortgage or you may become homeless if you do not keep up your repayments. In many cases this can be avoided so don’t let it happen to you, take action now.
The people at highest risk are those who are having problems but ignore them until it’s too late. If you are having difficulties keeping up with your mortgage or rent payments you need to act now to protect your home.
Firstly, speak to your mortgage lender or landlord.
Seeking repossession of your home is a last resort and if you are able to come to a mutually acceptable arrangement at an early stage then court action can be avoided.
If you cannot come to a satisfactory arrangement with your mortgage lender or landlord then seek specialist housing, legal or financial advice through organisations such as Shelter or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you are homeless, or threatened with homelessness, then you must speak to the Council’s Housing Needs Team on 01277 312571 to make an appointment for an interview with one of our advisers.
Whilst we have a duty to assist vulnerable homeless people we will also give advice and assistance to any household in housing need.
You can also find more information on the homelessness page.
Council Tax - Don't bury your head in the sand
Ignoring your debt problems will only make them worse. Don’t ignore calls or letters from the Council. Contact us to explain why you’re having problems meeting your payments - 01277 312500. The sooner you do this, the more options you'll have for solving your financial problems.
There are discounts and exemptions that can be applied to your bill by the Council in certain circumstances, such as:
- Single resident discount (25%) for those living alone
- Disregards for students, carers, second home owners, hospital patients and so on
- Reductions for people with disabilities where certain adaptations to their property have been made
- Exemption for empty properties for up to six months
- Council tax banding - if you feel that your property is in the wrong band, you should contact the Valuation Office on 01245 541200.
For further information please contact 01277 312500.
- www.adviceguide.org.uk - online consumer advice from the CAB
- www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk - general money advice and a money health check
- www.britishgasenergytrust.org.uk - fuel debts
- www.turn2us.org.uk - advice on benefits and grants
- www.fca.gov.uk - regulating the finance industry
- www.brentwood.foodbank.org.uk - emergency food to people in crisis
- www.gov.uk/report-loan-shark - help if you are debt to a loan shark
- www.essexsavers.co.uk - credit union
- www.financialskillsforlife.org.uk - Christmas debt