Extra financial support

Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need support including Discretionary Support, Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment, Short-term Benefit Advances, Sure Start Maternity Grants, Budgeting Loans and Cold Weather Payments. Find out about the options available and if you may be eligible.

Additional assistance with short term living expenses is available through Discretionary Support. 

To help support people during the COVID 19 pandemic the Department for Communities has put in place a non-repayable grant payment to assist with short-term living expenses where a person, or a member of their immediate family, has been infected by COVID-19 or told to self-isolate. 

If you are eligible to receive an award, it will be calculated based on your circumstances.

If you require assistance with short term living expenses you should complete and return the Discretionary Support form.

You can use a digital signature on this form by typing in the signature box. If you use this form you do not need to ring the Discretionary Support Freephone line, someone will contact you. 

Discretionary Support

Discretionary Support is quick, short-term financial support. It is paid either as an interest-free loan or grant into your bank account.

If you are awarded a loan, you must be able to pay it back within a specified time. You do not have to repay a grant.

Eligibility

To be eligible, the following conditions apply:

  • you must have an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation which places you or your immediate family’s health, safety or wellbeing at significant risk
  • you must live in Northern Ireland
  • help can only be provided within Northern Ireland, so you can't receive Discretionary Support for a crisis which occurs anywhere else
  • you must be over 18 years old or at least 16 years old if you do not have any parental support
  • you can receive Discretionary Support if you are working or receiving benefits but your annual income, including the income of your partner, must not be above the national living wage
  • if you receive a Discretionary Support award for an item such as a washing machine or mattress, you cannot receive another award for the same item in the same 12 month period, except in the case of a disaster
  • you cannot be awarded more than three loans and one grant in a 12 month period, except in the case of a disaster
  • if together your Social Fund, Discretionary Support and Short-term Benefit Advance debt, including the debt of your partner, is £1,000 or more, you will not be able to get a Discretionary Support loan

How to apply

To apply, contact the Finance Support Service.

You will need the following information:

  • your National Insurance number
  • rent or mortgage information
  • details of your income
  • details of your savings
  • your bank account details
  • if you are applying for floor or window coverings, the sizes of coverings you need   

How to request a review

If you're unhappy with a Discretionary Support decision, you have the right to ask for a review within 28 days of your initial decision. To do this, contact the Finance Support Service.

If you're unhappy with the review outcome, you can ask for a further review by the Discretionary Support Commissioner who is independent from the Department for Communities. This should be requested in writing within 28 days of the review decision.

For more information visit The Office of the Discretionary Support Commissioner website.

Universal Credit Advance or Budgeting Advance

If you claim Universal Credit and want to apply for a Universal Credit Advance or Budgeting Advance you can

Universal Credit Contingency Fund Payments

A Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment is a non-repayable payment that may be available to people who have made a new claim to Universal Credit and are continuing to experience financial difficulties, subject to them meeting certain eligibility criteria.

A Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment is administered by Discretionary Support and may be available if you do not have enough money to live on until you get your first Universal Credit payment. You will not have to pay this back. To ask for a Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment, telephone the Finance Support Service or contact your Work Coach.

The eligibility criteria include:

  • You will be asked to provide details that demonstrate the financial difficulties you are experiencing
  • you will have made a new claim to Universal Credit and are within your first or second Universal Credit assessment period
  • you must live in Northern Ireland 
  • you and if applicable your immediate family must be ordinarily resident and present in Northern Ireland
  • help can only be provided to deal with financial difficulties you are experiencing in Northern Ireland
  • you are unable to get financial help from another source
  • you must be over 18 years old or at least 16 years old if you do not have any parental support
  • Your income should not exceed £17,076.80.  (This amount is equivalent to the national minimum wage for a person age 25 and is subject to review on 1 April each year).
  • A Discretionary Support grant for living expenses has not been awarded to you in the previous rolling 12 months.

Amount payable

The amount payable equates to 50 per cent of the person’s relevant Universal Credit standard personal allowance rate and will, where applicable, include the full child element for each child.  

The period of the payment will be from the date of application to the day before the person’s next income is due. 

Anyone who wishes to request a Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment can establish whether they can obtain this additional support by telephoning the Finance Support Service and selecting option 2 or you can contact your Work Coach.  People who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have speech difficulties should make contact using the Text Number.

How to request a review

  • If you're unhappy with a Discretionary Support decision which includes Universal Credit Contingency Fund, you have the right to ask for a review within 28 days of your initial decision. To do this, contact the Finance Support Service.
  • If you're unhappy with the review outcome, you can ask for a further review by the Discretionary Support Commissioner who is independent from the Department for Communities. This should be requested in writing within 28 days of the review decision.
  • For more information visit The Office of the Discretionary Support Commissioner website.

Short-term Benefit Advance

This is an advance on your benefit payment if you have an urgent financial need that could have a serious impact on you or your family’s health, safety or wellbeing.

To be eligible you must:

  • have made a new or repeat benefit claim (and be likely to be eligible for that benefit), or reported a change in circumstances that increases the rate of benefit you already receive
  • not have access to any other funds or support
  • be in urgent financial need that could have a serious impact on you or your family’s health, safety or wellbeing
  • be able to repay the advance within 12 weeks

If you are eligible, it will be paid into your bank account on the day you apply.

How to apply

To apply for a Short-term Benefit Advance, contact the Finance Support Service.

You will need the following information:

  • your National Insurance Number
  • details of your benefit
  • your bank account details

How to request a review

You don't have a right to appeal a decision about a Short-term Benefit Advance, however, you can ask for it to be reconsidered. You must ask for this on the day the decision was made by contacting the Finance Support Service.

SMS messages

When claiming Discretionary Support, Short-term Benefit Advance and Universal Credit Contingency Fund payment you may receive text messages (SMS) from the Department for Communities (DfC). They will always be clearly marked as DfC and will never ask you to give, or click a link to give, personal information or financial details by message or email.

If you’re concerned or unsure about any text messages (SMS) you receive from about Discretionary loans or short-term loans you should contact Finance Support Service directly. If you suspect you have received a fraudulent message as a scam, please contact Finance Support Service immediately.

  • Further information is available at: scamwiseni

Sure Start Maternity Grant

This is a one-off payment to help towards the cost of maternity and baby items if you are on a low income or getting certain benefits or tax credits. It is tax-free and does not have to be repaid.

For more information, including how to apply, see Sure Start Maternity Grants.

Budgeting Loans

Budgeting loans may be available if you are on a low income and need help with costs such as furniture or essential household equipment, clothing, footwear or home improvements.

For more information, including how to apply, see Budgeting Loans.

Cold Weather Payment

Cold Weather Payment typically runs between November and March each year. It allows you to qualify for extra money each week there is very cold weather in your area. 

For more information, see Cold Weather Payment.

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