HomeMoney SavingWhat to do if you can’t pay your bills

What to do if you can’t pay your bills

Rachel Hazelwood

7th Mar 2024

Reading Time: 5 minutes

What happens if you can’t pay your household bills? We recently posted an article about the Don’t Pay Campaign. Jasmine Birtles advised that customers should be wary of the consequences of not paying bills as it can seriously damage your credit rating. Companies can pass your debt onto debt collection agencies, which can be really unpleasant.

So what can you do? What happens if you can’t cover your rent, your energy bills or your council tax? We round up your options below.

Most importantly – don’t ever ignore a bill. It won’t go away and the problem will only get worse.

Ask for help

Speak to the organisation you owe money to. It is possible they will work with you to arrange smaller payments, more time to pay or to take a short break while you sort yourself out.

Contact your local council. They might be able to offer help with bills, food and essential items like clothes or even appliances. This is known as ‘welfare assistance’. The help available is different depending on where you live but it is always worth asking.

You can find out how to contact your local council here.

Are you eligible for more Benefits?

If you are already on benefits or are struggling to pay for food or your rent you should check to see what extra help you can get. Other criteria include:

  • Being sick or disabled
  • Out of work
  • On a low income
  • Pensioner on a low income
  • Being a carer
  • Being responsible for children

Citizens Advice has a really helpful page where you can check what benefits you can get.

I can’t pay my energy bills

Hands holding billsHands holding bills

First – contact your provider. They might be able to arrange for you to pay less or to pay over a longer time to clear your debt. If you don’t know who your supplier is click here for the Ofgem website.

The “Big 6” energy suppliers are:

You might be able to apply for a grant to help you pay your energy bills. Are you:

  • Pensionable Age?
  • Registered Disabled?
  • On a low income (or no income)?
  • Or have you missed a payment to your supplier?

If you can answer yes to any of these check here to see if you can apply for a grant.

I can’t pay my rent

If this is you, don’t panic. First speak to your landlord – they might give you more time to pay. If they won’t accept your offer (based on what you can afford), pay what you can and keep a really careful record of every payment.

If you are a council tenant – talk to your housing officer. They will do what they can to help you and give you advice.

If you’re really struggling, you could get benefits to help you pay, such as Universal Credit or Housing Benefit. (You’ll usually get Universal Credit if you’re under State Pension age. You’ll usually get Housing Benefit if you’re over State Pension age.)

Click here for more information about how to find out if you can apply:

If you are already on benefits and can’t pay your rent, you can apply for a discretionary housing payment (DHP). This is extra money from the council to help you pay your rent. (You need to be already getting Housing Benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit to get DHP). You get DHP by applying to your local council.

Talk to Citizens Advice if you are threatened with eviction. Don’t worry – your landlord cannot evict you with no notice. There is a process they have to follow. Even at this stage it’s not too late to come to an agreement with them.

I can’t pay my council tax

Couple sharing billsCouple sharing bills

If you miss a council tax payment you should contact your local council straightaway. Don’t wait for them to contact you. Missing a payment means you are in arrears.

Ask to speak to someone in the Council Tax office and explain what’s happened. They will be able to advise you on what to do and what help they can offer (this is different depending on where you live).

Remember – mortgages are different. Click here for the MoneyMagpie guide on what to do if you can’t pay your mortgage or miss a payment.

Are loans worth it?

3 Things To Remember When Conducting A Personal Loan Comparison3 Things To Remember When Conducting A Personal Loan Comparison

Be really careful when it comes to loans. It’s often much more expensive to borrow money to pay off debt as it means paying interest on what you borrowed. It’s much better to negotiate with your landlord or energy provider first. Loans should be a last resort.

If you feel you have no other option then make sure the lender is on the FCA register. If they aren’t – do not borrow money from them. You can check by clicking here.


Jasmine says, “A lot of companies have the ability to give you extra time or even to reduce or write off your debt. It depends on your circumstances of course and it’s often a good idea to get a debt advisor to speak to them on your behalf. Volunteers at Community Money Advice, Christians Against Poverty, StepChange, Citizens Advice and others are really used to doing this. It may harm your credit rating if you have to go through this but it could be worth it just to reduce your current debts.”


Here are some more useful links with information on what to do if you can’t pay your household bills:



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