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I’ve fallen behind on my bills and the debts are building up, and there’s the costs of Christmas on top of this. I don’t know where to start?

You’ve already taken a great first step by asking for help, and it’s important to know you don’t need to face this alone. You can contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help – we currently offer telephone, email, webchat or video advice.


Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden (CACE) have specialist caseworkers who can help with debt matters (including budgeting advice, making sure you are maximising your income and advising on expenditure reduction measures).


In the meantime here are four steps you can take to get started:


1.Work out how much you owe – Make a list of whom you owe money to and add up how much you need to pay each month. If you don’t have your most recent statements, contact your creditor to find out what you owe. Some creditors will have special arrangements for people with Covid-related arrears.


2.Prioritise your debts – Your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax are called priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. Separate these and work out how much you owe. Again, you can ask the companies or council what support might be available during the pandemic.

If you have fuel debts you should or are struggling to pay your fuel bills get in touch with your local citizens advice for help and support – Citizens Advice Carlisle and Eden has an Energy Adviser who can help with this and many other energy matters – call 03300 563037 for an appointment or visit and complete an email enquiry form.


Energy help CACE can offer:

  • switching suppliers or tariffs
  • challenging your fuel bill, e.g. as you think the meter is faulty or a previous users bill has been added to your account
  • understanding your energy bills to make sure you’re not overpaying
  • negotiating affordable repayments rates, e.g. if you have accrued arrears and cannot to repay them
  • applying to Trust Funds to ask for help repaying arrears
  • registering you on the appropriate Priority Services Register if you are classed as a vulnerable person
  • understanding your heating system to make sure you’re using it correctly


3.Work out how much you can pay – Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking these away from your income. The Citizens Advice budgeting tool can help.
Any money you have spare can be put towards your debts, starting with the priority debts first.

If you have any money left after paying priority debts, but not enough to make your usual payments on other debts, consider getting advice on the best way for you to start getting on top of them. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay.


4.If you can’t pay your debts – If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your priority debts seek advice from Citizens Advice straight away. If you’re struggling to pay for basics like food, seek help immediately to see what support might be available to you (see below for more information). If you can’t pay off other debts, such as credit cards and loans, it would also be worth contacting your nearest Citizens Advice.


We know it can feel very daunting to deal with debt, but having a plan really helps and our team will be here to help you each step of the way.



Check if you can get extra help or money

You might be able to claim benefits or get more money on your current benefits if:

  • you have coronavirus, or you’re following guidance to stay at home
  • you’ve lost your job
  • or you’re self-employed and can’t get work
  • you can’t work because your workplace has closed

Check to see what benefits you can get if you’re affected by coronavirus.

Check if you can get free school meals

If you have children and you get certain benefits, you might be able to get free school meals for your children.

Check if you can get help with your living costs

You can contact your local council to see if they can give you any extra help from a hardship fund, including food or essential things like clothes. Check your local council on GOV.UK.

You might be able to get help with your living costs even if your visa says ‘No public funds’ or if you’re not allowed to be in the UK. You can still get help if either:

  • you have a child who needs help
  • you have a medical condition and you need someone to look after you