Dealing with financial difficulty

At some point in life, most of us will face financial hardship. It can be a demoralising, draining experience, and it can also take a serious toll on your mental health. This is only worsened when you have a family to support, too. There is, however, plenty of support and advice available. Read on for the best advice from Mumsnet users, and find out how to contact organisations that can help when things seem at their worst.

stressed woman struggling with debt

Facing financial hardship can be a huge challenge, but it's important to remember that you're not alone. Over the years, we've seen thread after thread about money worries, packed with useful advice from Mumsnet users who have been there, done that.

Facing homelessness

If you're facing homelessness (either imminently or within eight weeks), you can get in touch with your local council for help.

Get onto your local council and explain the situation to them. Try not to panic – just arm yourself with information as quickly as possible.

Apply to the local (or indeed any) council housing authority. If they assess you as being homeless, they have a duty of care to house you. It may not be an ideal housing solution, but it will put a roof over your head until you're able to move somewhere you'd rather be.

You can call ahead to arrange an appointment and, when you do go in, make sure you take documents which prove your identity and situation – for example, a passport or ID card, an eviction notice, letters which prove any medical conditions, and children's birth certificates.

It'll also help to bring proof of income if you can (this could include wage slips or proof of benefits).

Emergency housing

The council will need to check that you qualify for emergency housing. There are three conditions you need to meet:

  • You are legally homeless. This covers things like eviction, needing to leave because of violence, and otherwise needing to sleep on the street.
  • You meet the immigration conditions. ie, you're a British or Irish citizen living in the UK, you're an EU citizen working in the UK or have permanent residence, or you're from outside the EU but you're allowed to claim benefits. You can sometimes still qualify if you don't meet these conditions – Shelter has more on that here.
  • You're in priority need. This means you have children under 16 (or 19 if they're still dependent on you), are pregnant, are homeless because of a fire or flood, are a care leaver aged 18-20, or are classed as 'vulnerable' (eg, you're disabled or at risk of domestic abuse).

Emergency housing isn't permanent, and the accommodation ranges from B&Bs and homeless hotels to self-contained flats. The council will try to find this accommodation in your area, taking into account where you work and where your children go to school. You'll be able to stay until the council decides you meet the criteria for longer-term housing, which can take up to three months. However, if you're pregnant or have children with you, it's unlawful for a council to keep you in a B&B for more than six weeks.

The whole process of going into a B&B or other temporary housing isn't much fun, but you will get through it.

My friend has been in (very nice) temporary accommodation for two years. How long you can stay will depend on the area.

You still have to pay rent in emergency accommodation, but it has to be affordable for you. To help, you should be able to claim either housing benefit or universal credit housing costs.

Longer-term housing

To qualify for longer-term housing, you need to meet the three conditions above, plus:

  • Being homeless through no fault of your own. You'd be considered 'intentionally homeless' if you've been evicted for antisocial or criminal behaviour; if you didn't pay your mortgage when it was affordable, or you gave up your home when you could have stayed.
  • Having a connection to the local area. Aka, if you live or work in the area, have close family in the area, or require specialist healthcare in that area. You can be referred to another council if their corresponding area isn't suitable – although it's worth noting that, if you're at risk of domestic abuse or other violence in that area, they won't be able to refer you there.

This longer-term housing could be a council house, a privately let home, or – if you're single – a room in a home or flatshare. You might need to wait for this housing to become available.

It will be stressful but it'll work out in the end (believe me – I’ve been there).

If the council decides you don't qualify for longer-term housing, they'll need to give you notice to leave your emergency accommodation. If you have a family, this will be at least 28 days; if you're in a hostel for single people, it will be 7 days. They should continue to help you find somewhere else to live for now, and may refer you to social services for more help.

If you don't qualify for either

If you don't qualify for either longer-term housing or emergency accommodation, the council will still be able to help. They'll need to give you advice on how you can keep your home, and – to that end – should give you a personal housing plan.

There are other organisations that will be able to advise and support you, too – Shelter, for one; Citizens Advice for another. If you've faced/are facing domestic abuse, firstly, we're so sorry – secondly, Women's Aid will be able to help.

Get in touch with Women's Aid – they'll point you in the right direction. Don't be scared. I know that's easier said than done, but a few years ago I was in the same position, and believe me, everything worked out fine.

My advice is to go to your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Get an appointment and talk the situation through with them – they should be able to help.

Dealing with debt

You might not be at risk of losing your home, but coping with debt can be its own struggle. It's estimated that the average UK household owes £15,400 – a record high, thanks to austerity. Mumsnet users frequently band together to trade advice on getting out of debt.

One suggestion that crops up again and again is to control your outgoings very closely.

To get out of debt, tracking expenditure and cutting back on that expenditure is vital.

Write down what you're spending. I've had the idea to create a WhatsApp group for my husband and I where, at the start of the month we'll have a set budget. We then put on there everything we spend. It'll only take a second each time but it'll give us a running total of what we have left for the month and will hopefully discourage some of the non essential spending.

I did the writing down thing and it shocked my husband and I beyond belief. It definitely changed the way we spend.

I've switched to cash, which I know goes against the grain these days, but it does make me realise how much I’m spending every day.

I've got a Monzo card now which I transfer a set amount of money to at the start of the month. This is used for shopping, so my bank statements tend to just show money for bills. This definitely makes it easier to keep track.

Another is to save – wherever you can. Even seemingly tiny amounts add up.

Just wanted to offer some hope – two years ago I was in approximately £10k debt. Now I have no debt and a healthy level of savings. Saving little amounts was key – I put all my change below 50p into a piggy bank, and made sure I saved a pound a day. I also really re-thought the compulsion to spend, thinking more along the lines of 'what do I need' vs 'what do I want'.

If you need to buy something – for the house, for example – try Facebook Marketplace or Facebook giveaway groups. There are some in my area and we share all kinds of things with each other when we've finished with them – from toys to clothes to the odd Hoover or microwave.

If you're struggling with debt, Mumsnet users often also swear by the 'standing order trick'.

Credit card providers reduce the minimum payment due as your balance decreases, meaning it takes longer to clear the balance and that you pay more interest if it’s not on 0%. The standing order trick is simply to set up a standing order to pay your credit card, setting it as the minimum payment plus £5 (or the maximum you can afford over the minimum) and to pay that monthly instead of the direct debit minimum.

Basically, if you have a credit card on which you are paying the minimum, change the direct debit into a standing order for £1 rounded up from the amount you paid this month. That step alone (assuming you stop spending on that card) reduces the repayment period from 30 to 3 years.

The 'snowball method' is also hailed as being extremely helpful. This is when you focus on paying off your smaller debts first, gaining momentum as you pay more and more off.

As businessman Dave Ramsey explains it: “When the smallest debt is paid in full, you roll the money you were paying on that debt into the next smallest balance.” You pay as much as you possibly can on your smallest debts, and then repeat the process until everything is paid off in full.

Every time you clear a debt, snowball the amount you were paying off that one onto the next one. Then, when they're all gone, pile that same money into savings.

Finally, don't despair. Your financial difficulty is temporary, and you will get to the other side of it. It simply cannot last forever.

I've been in the position before and got out of it. So good luck to all of you – it's hard, but have a plan and stick to it. Set small goals to help you feel you are making progress.

Useful resources

Here are some of the most discussed charities and organisations to help with financial hardship, as recommended by users. We’ve listed them below.

Homelessness and housing

Explain your situation to your local council

Contact Shelter online, by phone and in person for advice, information and advocacy

Contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for free, confidential information and advice about housing

Apply for the housing association list – Housing associations are private, non-profit making organisations that provide low-cost “social housing” for people in need of a home.

Food and items

Contact the Citizens Advice Bureau Free, confidential information and advice, can refer to nearest foodbank. Job centre, health visitor, GP and social services can also make referrals to food banks.

St Vincent De Paul Society – offers friendship and practical help to all

Contact The Trussell Trust – practical help and support with a network of food banks

OLIO App – surplus food and other items can be shared rather than thrown away

Freecycle – nonprofit movement for giving and receiving free stuff in your local neighborhood

Bills

Prepayment meters – contact your gas or electric supplier to ask for temporary emergency credit. You can find your supplier here. Call the Meter Point Administration Service on 0870 608 1524

Other help

Turn 2 Us Grant search

Turn 2 Us Benefits calculator

Contact StepChange – Free debt advice

Citizens Advice Bureau – Help with debt including debt management plans and Debt relief orders

Young Women’s Trust – Free confidence & employment coaching

Gov Website – Eligibility and application for free school meals

Smart Works – trains and offers outfits to unemployed women for success at their job interview.

Christians against poverty – they’ll design a budget and the best way to clear your debt for free

Mental health support

Mind

Samaritans

Support on Mumsnet

Mumsnet Credit Crunch

Mumsnet Money matters