During the initial lockdown period from March to June, Peterborough Foodbank saw a 70% increase in the number of families needing support due to job losses, being placed on furlough or lost income as a result of the pandemic. While the numbers dropped over the summer, they are anticipated to increase again as a result of winter, potential localised lockdowns and changes to the job support scheme.
They have partnered with Citizens Advice Peterborough to provide a dedicated phone service for Foodbank clients who need fast-track advice on topics such as debt problems, budgeting and more.
However, for anyone who may be experiencing financial difficulties at the moment, Citizens Advice Peterborough has shared six tips to help manage your finances during the pandemic.
1. Check what benefits or grants you can get
You may be missing out on a benefit you're entitled to, which means you're not getting money that could make a real difference to your income right now. To check whether you're eligible for any benefits, use the benefits calculator on the GOV.UK website.
2. Apply for grants
There are a number of grants available right now, based on where you live and your working background. To find out what grants there are, use the Turn2us checker to search for grants and apply. Grants don’t have to be paid back and can be financial, products or services.
3. Work out your budget to help manage your money
An important step towards getting control of your finances is finding out what you have coming in and going out each month and where most of your money goes. To help you work this out, use the online budgeting tool at Citizens Advice. It will show you what you have left each month to settle any debts, or to set aside as savings, as well as give you advice on where you could cut costs.
4. Sort out your Council Tax
There are lots of ways to potentially save money on your council tax or spread the cost. First, check if you’re eligible for a discount. You could reduce your overall bill if you:
● live on your own
● live only with someone who's under 17 or a full-time student
● live with someone with mental health problems
● live with someone who is severely disabled
● earn below a certain amount of money - this depends on where you live
You may be paying too much money if your property is in the wrong Council Tax band. To check, follow the steps on the MoneySavingExpert website. If the band is changed and your bill is reduced, you’ll also get back the money you've overpaid since you moved in.
If you're starting to struggle with your payments, you can ask your council to spread your Council Tax over 12 months instead of the usual 10. This will reduce the amount you pay each month.
5. Deal with credit card debts
Whilst credit card debt can build up quickly and be very worrying, it's important to first sort out any other debts like arrears on your mortgage, energy bills or Council Tax. This is because the immediate consequences of not paying these things are much more serious.
However, it's still important to speak to your card provider and explain your situation to stop it getting worse. They should be able to help you make a plan to repay the debt.
One of the things that you could do is look to reduce your interest charges and you can ask your provider if they are willing to reduce it. Another way to do this is by switching to another bank. Transferring your balance to a card with 0% interest means you just have to pay off the current amount with no additional interest, as long as you don’t add anything new to it. This will cost you less than increasing your credit limit on your current card. Several websites offer credit card comparison tools, so you can find the best one for your situation.
6. Deal with gas, electric or water bills
If you've got a gas or electric bill you can’t pay, you should contact your supplier to help you sort out a payment plan that works for you. They are obliged to help you do this so if they don't, contact Citizens Advice Peterborough.
There are a number of energy companies who offer grants and schemes - even if you’re not a customer. There are charitable grants too which you can apply for. Check the Charis website for details. To cut your future bills you should make sure you're on the best deal you can get. Use our free price comparison tool to check.
Regarding your water bill, if you can't pay your current bill, read our advice on how to negotiate with your water company. Most water companies have hardship schemes or other ways to help customers if you let them know you’re struggling to pay your bills.
If you need further advice on how to manage your finances, you can contact Citizens Advice here.