Emergency help

If you’re in a tight spot and need to get hold of some money quickly for essentials such as food, bills, and transport to work, we have collected some suggestions below for you to look into. They are listed in rough order to consider.

It’s important to understand that many of the borrowing options listed on this page are expensive. They may help you in a crisis situation when you have no other safety net, but if you use them repeatedly, the costs will quickly grow and make your financial situation worse.

It’s vital that as well as getting the immediate help you need, you also take stock of what you can do to prepare for the coming weeks and months. Our flowchart can help you organise your finances, and deal with any budget shortfalls and debt.

Talk to your creditors

If you are on this page because you can’t afford an imminent bill, whether it’s debt repayment, council tax, utilities or anything else, contact the company to explain. You may be able to move the payment date or make a smaller payment for now. Energy companies may have grants available to help you – more info available from MoneySavingExpert and StepChange.

Creditors will ask about your income and other expenses, so make sure you have a solid budget available to refer to.

StepChange also provide free impartial advice if you are struggling with problem debt and creating a realistic budget.

Ask family, friends, and colleagues for help

If you have anyone in your life in a position to help you out with a small loan to tide you over, this is by far the best option in many cases. It’s understandable to be reluctant to ask people you know personally for help, but it really is the best solution if you need money immediately.

When asking for help, be honest and realistic about your situation. Don’t promise to pay people back quickly if there’s a chance you might not be able to. People are usually really willing to help someone in a tight spot if they possibly can.

Bank lending options

An arranged overdraft

Your bank may be willing to increase your overdraft limit if you contact them to request it. This is likely to be the fastest way to access short term borrowing as you will be able to use it instantly on your existing account.

An interest-free overdraft is ideal if you can get one. Otherwise, the interest rates on overdrafts are generally high compared to credit cards and personal loans. If you only need to borrow e.g. £35 for two days, the impact of the high interest rate will be minimal. But if you end up carrying a larger balance for weeks or months, you are better off with a different solution.

Note that if you go past your agreed overdraft limit your bank may allow you to borrow as an ‘unarranged overdraft’, or they may decline the transaction.

Credit cards and personal loans

Use MoneySavingExpert’s credit card eligibility checker to see if you are likely to be accepted for any credit cards. Processing your application and sending you the card will take a few days, so this is not instant.

Get help from: your workplace, union, or university

If you are employed, your employer may be able to pay you early, or to lend you money to be paid back over future pay periods. They may also have workplace hardship funds available that don’t need to be repaid.

Ask your manager and HR, check any staff web or intranet sites, and phone your employee assistance helpline if you have one.

If you are a member of a union, they may also be able to offer financial support.

If you are a student, speak to your university as they may have hardship funds you can use. Your student union may also be able to help you.

Get help from the government and your Local Authority

As the first step in our flowchart says, check that you are signed up for any benefits you are entitled to. Note that it can be a slow process to start to receive these.

If you are currently receiving benefits, you may be able to get an advance.

Your local council may also offer support with essentials such as food and household appliances.

Citizen’s Advice has more information on both of these options: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/debt-and-money/get-help-with-the-cost-of-living/

Accessing free food

It’s often easier to find people willing to give you food than people willing to give you money. If you have enough money to pay the bills but not to buy enough food after that, here are some options:

  • Trussell trust run a nationwide network of food banks. To access food from them you will need a referral, which you can get over the phone from Citizen’s Advice or from your GP. If you are being supported by a social worker or charity, they can also refer you.
  • Independent food banks (run by local charities, religious organisations, or community groups) often do not require a referral and may be able to get you a food parcel faster. Here is a map of such organisations, but it is by no means complete. Googling [your area] + ‘food bank’, ‘food support’, ‘free meals’ etc may turn up more organisations. Try different keywords for your area and any neighbouring locations you could get to.
  • Local churches, Sikh temples (gurdwaras) and community organisations may host community meals where you can just show up and eat a cooked meal for free.
  • At the start of Covid, many mutual aid organisations formed around the UK – usually groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social networks. Some may still be a good place to seek support, check this map and also google [your area] + ‘mutual aid’.
  • The app olio distributes free food, through volunteers picking up unsold food from local supermarkets and cafes and posting the items on the app for neighbours to collect (as well as sometimes people offering their own unwanted food). This is most active in cities with lots of residents and businesses. It also works best if you are available in the evenings to collect items promptly after ads are posted (but you can find items at other times of day).

Earning a bit of extra money quickly

Unfortunately there aren’t any great-paying freebies that pay out in a day or two. However, if getting some more money in your pocket in a week or month will help your situation, here are some ideas:

  • Bank account switching bonuses – banks will sometimes run marketing offers where they’ll offer you some money for switching to them. The process is really simple and painless and gets you an easy £100 or so. You may be able to pick up multiple bonuses by switching repeatedly when offers come up.
  • Survey sites such as prolific pay you to fill in marketing and academic research surveys.
  • /r/beermoneyuk has lists of apps and sites that pay out small bits of cash for small amounts of work, as well as other kinds of introductory offers such as free food or household items.

Selling stuff

If you have items you can spare which would sell for a bit of cash, you can use:

  • Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree for in-person sales
  • Second hand shops like CeX or local repair shops for an instant sale. Note you’ll get less for your items than selling them to people directly, but it may be faster than waiting for a buyer.
  • eBay and depop for online sales

Beware of common scams for both in person and online sales.

Buy Now Pay Later

It is becoming increasingly possible to pay for everyday essentials such as groceries using ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ (BNPL) schemes. These are not (yet) well-regulated, so lenders are not required to assess that you will be able to afford repayments.

While BNPL is advertised as 0% interest (you pay only the cost of the purchase, spread out over the next couple of months), if you miss any of the scheduled payments you may be charged fees.

More info: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/loans/buy-now-pay-later/

Reddit /r/borrow

/r/borrow is a subreddit where Reddit users can arrange to borrow money from each other.

The subreddit requires you to have a Reddit account with enough ‘karma’ (points gathered from participating in Reddit over time) so this isn’t something you can just sign up for when you need money quickly. They also have very specific rules about how to post and interact, and will ban users for not following them precisely, so don’t post while you’re in a hurry or panic. Take the time to read all their guides and requirements, and their resources on protecting yourself from scams.

Borrowing from pawn shops

Pawnbrokers will allow you to borrow money against valuable items you own. If you repay the loan and interest within the agreed time you can take your item back, and if you do not they will sell it.

This is a very expensive way to borrow. The loan will have a high interest rate, and you may lose your item and get less for it than if you’d simply sold it yourself. See this page from moneyhelper for more information on pawnbroker loans.

Payday loans

Payday loans offer money quick but at an extremely high cost. We recommend you avoid them if you possibly can – you are better off not paying a bill than taking a payday loan to afford it.

Interest rates on payday loans are sky-high. Borrowing £100 on a credit card for one month would cost you between £0 and £2 in interest, but a payday lender will charge around £25.

You will typically need to sign an agreement allowing the lender to take repayment directly from your debit card on a given day. This can lead to a negative cycle where after the money goes out you’re left with a shortfall, and need to borrow again to pay your bills, borrowing more each month as the amount you owe increases with each loan. If you don’t have enough money in your account when the lender tries to take payment, additional fees will be added to the balance, making the problem worse.

Even if you are confident you’re in a position to pay the loan off in full before it’s due, having payday loans on your credit file will make it much harder to get cheaper borrowing such as a credit card or personal loan in future.

More information about payday loans and alternatives can be found at Citizen’s Advice, MoneySavingExpert, and moneyhelper.