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Managing financially

It can be tough making ends meet as a single parent, especially if you’re on a tight budget. The information on this page might help you stay on top of your money. It includes tips on budgeting and how to make sure you’re getting all the support you’re entitled to. 

You’ll also find places to turn to for grants and loans when things are difficult.

Are you missing out?

Managing your money

Help with costs for your child

Help in hard times

Useful links

Are you missing out?

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re not missing out on money or support that you’re entitled to.  

Check your benefits 

You can use our benefits checkers to see what benefits you could be getting. Depending on your circumstances, you might be entitled to claim extra money or cut your bills, for example through a discount on your Council Tax.

You can also talk to us – we can go through everything with you to make sure you’re not missing out. 

Child maintenance

Support from your child’s other parent can make a big difference to your budget. If you’re not receiving child maintenance at the moment, perhaps think about applying for it. 

If you’ve applied before, but not been able to get any, it might be worth looking into it again. There are different rules now and some parents are eligible who weren’t before. 

You can find more information in our child maintenance section

Managing your money

Good money management starts with making a budget, so you know exactly what you have coming in and going out. It’s also important to keep bills as low as possible, and make sure you’re not paying more than you should be for things. 


Putting together a budget – a list of money that comes in and goes out each month – can help you take control of your finances and bring peace of mind.

Tools to help you budget

You can set up a budget using a spreadsheet, an app, or just a piece of paper. There are also lots of handy online tools to help with budgeting, like these:

Tips for budgeting
  • Keep a spending diary and receipts so you can see what you’re actually spending and where you could cut back. 
  • Check your statements for direct debits that you can cancel. 
  • On your budget, only include income you know you’ll definitely get. If you’re not sure, don’t include it – it could cause problems later on. 
  • Make sure you include all your expenses for the month. These might be things like your bus fares, TV licence, dentist bills, haircuts, car tax or food shopping. Remember that these might vary from month to month. 

Top tips from single parents

Here are a few tips on saving and managing money from single parents. You’ll find more suggestions and discussions in our online forum.

It’s no use trying to avoid money problems by not seeing it in black and white. Always open bills, bank statements, etc, so you know what’s happening. If you’re struggling to pay bills, go to your local free advice centre for help. 


If you have one in your area, join a credit union. It helps to save and has good interest rates for kids. And if you do need a loan, they’re the cheapest, safest option.


Use comparison websites for things like utilities, and mobile phone plans to get a good deal.


Energy and water bills

Gas, electricity and water bills can be a big chunk of your monthly expenses. It’s good to do all you can to keep your costs down, and also to get helpful advice from the experts.

Get good advice
  • Citizens Advice has helpful information on what to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills
  • You can get free personalised advice on keeping warm and reducing your bills from LEAP (Local Energy Advice Partnership) or NEA (National Energy Action). 
  • You can find information on how to save energy and bring your bills down on the Energy Saving Trust website.
  • Visit gov.uk’s Help for Households for a range of energy saving tips, from simple free actions to bigger investments that can save you money long term. 

You can also check whether your supplier can give you a discount under the Warm Home Discount Scheme. This gives a yearly automatic discount on your electricity bill (in winter 2022-23 it was £150). You’ll qualify if you’re on a low income and have high energy bills.   

If you’re claiming certain benefits, you might be eligible for Cold Weather Payments. You could get £25 if it’s particularly cold (0°C or below) for seven days or more.

Tips for saving and support
  • Switching things off at the plug can save a little money.   
  • Use the ‘eco’ or lower temperature setting on your washing machine or dishwasher. It takes longer but saves money. 
  • If you’re behind on your energy or water payments, you might be able to pay them off by a scheme called Fuel Direct. If you’re eligible, money will be taken directly from your benefit payments to repay the debt.
  • Water companies can’t cut you off, but they will take steps to get the money that you owe them. 
  • A water meter might save you money on your bills, as you only pay for the water you use. As a general rule, if you have more bedrooms than people in your home, you should save money with a meter. You can check if you’d save money by using the water meter calculator from the Consumer Council for Water.

If you have a water meter, you could be eligible to have your water bill capped through the WaterSure scheme. You’ll qualify if you’re on certain benefits and need to use a lot of water – for example, if you have 3 or more children living at home, or someone has a medical condition and needs to use more than water than most people.

Thinking of switching suppliers?

If you’re thinking about changing your energy supplier to save money, first take a look at the consumer information from Ofgem. Because the energy market is unsettled at the moment, you won’t find many good deals from energy suppliers. If you can’t find a better tariff than your current one, wait until there are some better deals before switching.

Saving on phone and broadband

If you claim certain benefits, including Universal Credit, you might be able to switch to a cheaper broadband and phone package called a social tariff (also known as essential or basic broadband). These are exactly the same as other packages, just cheaper. You’ll find more on social tariffs on the Ofcom website, or you can ask your supplier if they have a social tariff.

If you’re thinking about changing your phone and broadband supplier to save money, Ofcom can tell you how to switch

Low-cost furniture and appliances

Getting second hand or recycled goods for your home is usually cheaper than buying brand new. Some charities will deliver free to your home, too. 

The Re-use Network is a national scheme selling furniture and other household items at affordable prices.

Watch out for shops and catalogues that sell new furniture and appliances on credit, which you pay back weekly or monthly. They often work out to be hugely expensive.

Help with costs for your child

You can apply for a small grant for welfare or educational reasons through Family Action. This could be for something like a broken washing machine or to help your child continue studying.  

Some schools, colleges and universities will also have hardship funds for students – so it’s worth asking if funds are available. 

For information on school transport costs and help with costs for children with additional needs see the Citizens Advice help with school costs guide.

Free school meals

You might be able to get free school meals for your child, depending on your circumstances. You can check if you’re eligible on gov.uk. 

Here’s how it works:

  • If you have children at a state school in reception, year 1 or year 2,  they can get free school meals regardless of how much you’re earning.
  • Your child can get free school meals if you get Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Child Tax Credits (as long as you’re not entitled to Working Tax Credit and your income is less than £16,190 a year) or Working Tax Credit run-on.
  • If you’re on Universal Credit and you either applied before 1 April 2018 or you earn less than £7,400 a year (not including any benefits), your child can get free school meals. This will be the case until 31 March 2025 in England, even if you start earning more stop getting Universal Credit. Your child will be eligible until they finish whatever stage of education they’re in (primary or secondary). You can apply for this through your council.
  • In Wales, the government is rolling out free school meals to all primary school children by 2024. Check with your council and see how to apply.

Even if your child automatically gets free school meals, it’s worth telling your local council if you’re on a low income and receive benefits. Your child’s school might get extra money, and you might get help with other school costs.

Healthy Start scheme

You might be eligible for help to buy food, baby milk, or vitamins if you’re at least 10 weeks’ pregnant or have a child under the age of 4 and are on certain benefits.

If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money loaded onto it that you can use in some shops. More money will be added every 4 weeks.

If you’re under 18 and at least 10 weeks’ pregnant, you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme even if you’re not claiming benefits, and no matter how much you earn. 

To check if you qualify and to make a claim go to the Healthy Start website.

School uniform costs

If you’re struggling to buy the school uniform, it’s a good idea to let the school know and see if they can help. Some schools let parents pay for uniforms in installments, and they might also have second-hand uniforms available. Some will have hardship funds for students from low income homes.

In England, some councils still offer school uniform grants, but this is increasingly rare. You can check whether your council gives school uniform grants.

If you live in Wales and your child is eligible for free school meals, you can apply for a Pupil Development Grant once every school year. This applies to children from reception up to Year 11. 

Charity grants for school costs

Some charities can also help with school uniform or other school-related costs. For example:

  • FTCT offers help with school uniform costs to parents who work, or have recently worked, for a UK fashion or textile company.
  • Grocery Aid offers a school essentials grant of up to £150 per child. To qualify, you must have been working in the grocery industry for the last year, or have worked in a previous job in the industry within the last 5 years.

You can find other potential grants by using a grant finder tool.

Help in hard times

If you need money urgently, try not to panic. There is help out there. You might be able to get a Budgeting Loan or Advance, hardship payment, short-term benefit advance or even a grant. Here we talk you through your options. 

If you’re in debt, our page on dealing with debt explains where you can go for free support and advice. It also covers budgeting and managing household bills, and gives you tips on negotiating with people you owe money.

Gingerbread’s Advice Service Manager, Anna, talks about how to get urgent financial help

Look after yourself

Money worries and debts can be hard on your mental health. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious or stressed, talk to your GP about getting support.

If you need to speak to someone right now, you can call Samaritans for free 24 hours a day on 116 123. Or you can text Shout on 85258 to message with a trained volunteer.

If you’re feeling suicidal, go to A&E or call 999. Mind has more about what to do in a crisis.

Food banks

Food banks can help if you can’t afford enough to eat. They can give you 3 days’ emergency food and might also be able to give you toiletries. 

The Trussell Trust is the largest network of food banks in the UK. Their foodbanks are often in churches, but they welcome people of all faiths and none at all. They can help you find a foodbank near you

To use a food bank, you usually need a food voucher. These are given out by people like your local Citizens Advice, GP or social worker. 

But you might be able to use some food banks without a voucher – if they’re run by a local church, for example. Speak to your local food bank directly to find out.

Help from your council

Your local council should have a scheme to help people with serious money problems. These will be different depending on where you live, and they have different criteria. Get in touch with your council for more details. 

If you get Universal Credit with a housing element or Housing Benefit and are still struggling to pay rent, you can apply for a discretionary housing payment through your local council

You might also be able to get extra help with everyday things like food, clothing, and utility bills through the Household Support Fund (sometimes also called the Household Support Grant or Household Support Scheme). 

This is a council scheme that gives out a small cash payment or vouchers. This money is a grant and you don’t need to pay it back. It isn’t available in all areas and some local authorities offer more than others, but it’s worth checking what you can get. 

Check your council website or get in touch with them to see what they offer.


You might be able to get a grant through a charity to help with everyday living costs of one-off expenses. Grants don’t have to be paid back, and won’t affect your benefits. Our page on applying for a grant has more about how these work and how you can apply.

You can use the grantfinder tool there to see if you might be eligible for any grants, and how to apply for them. Before you apply, it’s a good idea to think through why you need the money and what you need it for. This will help the charity see if you fit their criteria for financial help.

Help with one-off costs

If you need help for things like a new fridge, furniture, removal costs or clothes, you might also be able to apply for a Budgeting Advance or Budgeting Loan of up to £812. You’ll have to pay back the money through your benefits within 2 years, but there won’t be any interest added.  

  • If you’ve been on Universal Credit for at least 6 months, you can apply for a Budgeting Advance through your Universal Credit account or your local Jobcentre Plus. If you need the advance to help you start a new job or stay in work, then you don’t need to have been claiming for 6 months.

If you’ve been getting income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support or Pension Credit for at least 6 months, you can apply for a Budgeting Loan.

If your benefits have been stopped

You might be able to get a hardship payment if you claim Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, or Employment and Support Allowance and your benefits have stopped because you’ve been sanctioned. This usually happens because of something like breaking the terms of your claim or missing meetings. 

If you’re waiting for benefits to start

If you’ve recently applied for benefits and you’re waiting for your first payment, you might be able to get an advance if you’re short of money. This is a loan that will be paid back out of your benefits. If your application is approved, you’ll usually be paid it on the same or next day, straight into your bank account. 

To apply, call the helpline for the benefit you’re claiming. For a Universal Credit advance, you can apply online or through your jobcentre work coach.

Date last updated: 18 May 2023

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