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Debt and benefits frequently asked questions

What benefits am I entitled to?

You can calculate your benefit entitlement using the following free benefit calculators:

  • Turn2us -  Benefit calculator for information on income-related benefits, Tax Credits, Council Tax reduction, Carers Allowance, Universal Credit and how your benefits will be affected if you start work or change your working hours.
  • entitledto - For information on income-related benefits, Tax Credits, Contribution-based benefits, Council Tax reduction, Carers Allowance, Universal Credit and how your benefits will be affected if you start work. Entitledto also has over 300 benefit advice pages that may answer any questions you have about your benefits.

To calculate your benefit entitlement, you'll need accurate information about your:

  • Savings
  • Income, including your partner's income (from payslips, for example)
  • Existing benefits and pensions (including anyone living with you)
  • Outgoings (such as rent, mortgage, childcare payments)
  • Council tax bill

If you are still unable to work out your benefit entitlement after using the calculators, you can contact our service on 0191 4246040 to speak to an advisor. 

Where can I get advice about Universal Credit?

Find out about Universal Credit.

Where do I go to claim benefits?

There are different ways of claiming each benefit: 

  • Jobcentre Plus runs a claim-line that covers some of the benefits for people of working age (including Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support). You can contact them on 0800 055 6688 
  • The Pension Service can help people who have reached Pension Credit qualifying age. You can contact them by calling 0800 731 7898
  • You can only apply for Universal Credit online. If you have any questions about claiming Universal Credit or are unable to do so online you can contact the Universal Credit Helpline on Telephone: 0345 600 0723 
  • Personal Independence Payment  - Call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim on Telephone: 0800 917 2222
  • You can apply for Carers Allowance online or by post. 

I am a carer - can I get any financial help?

You may be able to claim Carer's Allowance. While you get Carer's Allowance you will get Class 1 National Insurance credits, which count towards your retirement pension. Some carers can also get a Council Tax discount. However, if you claim Carer's Allowance, the person you care for may lose some of their means-tested benefits, so it is best to seek advice before you claim.

Find out more about . If you would like advice regarding claiming carers allowance please contact the Welfare Support Service on 0191 4246040.

Can I get help to work out my budget?

You can use the government's free Money Advice Service budget planner to help you budget your income and expenditure.

The planner has lots of tools to help you work out your weekly, monthly and yearly costs as well as tips to cut costs or save for a special occasion.

My benefits have been stopped or sanctioned. Can I appeal?

The Welfare Support Service can give you advice on challenging a decision about a benefit claim. To speak to one of our advisors please call us on 0191 4246040 or use the send us an enquiry.

If you want to challenge a decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) you must first ask them to reconsider the decision. This is called a mandatory reconsideration. You can ask for this over the phone or by post and the DWP must respond to you within 28 days. Once the DWP have reconsidered the decision they will send you a mandatory reconsideration notice stating whether they have changed their decision.

If you are not happy with the response, you may be able to appeal the decision to an independent tribunal. To appeal, you need to fill in form SSCS1. You must have a copy of your mandatory reconsideration notice to send with the appeal form as your appeal won't be accepted without it.

Your appeal must be received by the tribunal service within one month of the date of your mandatory reconsideration notice. If you are unable to meet this deadline, contact the tribunals service on 0300 123 1142 to ask for an extension to the time limit.

I have no money due to an unexpected crisis, where can I get support?

For information about short-term financial support for people in crisis, please see Crisis support.

Bailiffs / Enforcement Agents

Please note: Bailiffs are now called Enforcement Agents. This will be their title on any letter or notice they post to you and will be the title they use when speaking to you. So if you are dealing with an Enforcement Agent it is worth remembering that they are what was known as, and are still referred to as, a bailiff.

Bailiffs / Enforcement Agents are threatening to visit my home to take my goods, what can I do?

Bailiffs (Enforcement Agents) can take your belongings if you haven't paid a debt you owe, so long as they follow the correct procedure to do so. If a bailiff comes to your home, you don't have to let them in and generally they must gain what is known as peaceable entry. This means that they cannot break in or force entry. You would have to let them in or they could walk in by opening an unlocked door or simply walking through the door that is already open.

Some bailiffs do have the power to force entry to your home, as a last resort, when they are collecting an unpaid magistrates' court fine, Income Tax or if they are there to install a pre-payment meter for your gas/electricity. Although bailiffs collecting magistrates' court fines do have the power to force entry, magistrates courts rarely allow them to use this power.

It is important that you do something about the debt that the bailiff is pursuing as it is unlikely to just go away. If bailiffs are threatening a visit to your home and you require advice please contact the Welfare Support Service on 0191 424 6040. Alternatively, you can find out further information regarding bailiffs on the National Debtline.

If bailiff has gained entry to my home what can they do?

If an enforcement agent does gain entry to your property they will usually seize household goods with the intention to sell them to repay your debt, if you cannot meet the payments requested. It is common for bailiffs to list goods on a controlled goods agreement which they will ask you to sign. A controlled goods agreement is a formal arrangement between you and a bailiff which gives you time to repay what you owe. You can keep your belongings but they stay under the bailiff's control while the agreement is in place. It is rare that bailiffs then remove and sell these goods as most people will keep to the payment arrangement with the bailiff at this stage so that their goods are not removed.

A controlled goods agreement is not valid unless you have signed it.

You should also be aware that if you have goods outside of your property that are not secured in a locked shed or garage, the bailiff can seize them as they do not need to gain entry to your home to do so. The most common asset seized outside of a property is a car. If you do own a car try to move it into a locked garage, park it on a neighbour's drive or move it away from your property so it is not obvious it belongs to you.  Bailiffs cannot usually seize a vehicle that does not belong to you or that is being bought on hire purchase. You should seek immediate advice if a bailiff does seize your vehicle.

What goods can a bailiff take from me?

The bailiff can take:

  • Things that belong to you, except exempt items
  • Jointly owned things
  • Goods which were bought with personal loans. For example, bank loans or finance company loans, credit cards, or a mail order or budget account or storecard
  • Cash, cheques, bonds, stocks and shares, and pawn tickets that belong to you
  • Items that you're wearing or carrying, such as jewellery, but only if you hand them over or agree to them being taken. Bailiffs cannot take these items from you forcibly.

There are certain things that bailiffs aren't allowed to take. These are known as exempt items and include the following:

  • Items or equipment such as tools, books and computer equipment that are necessary for your work, study or education, up to a total value of £1350, unless your debt is for unpaid business rates, in which case items you use for work are not protected
  • Household equipment that can serve your "basic domestic needs"
  • Anything that belongs to a child, such as toys
  • Anything that you are paying for on hire purchase or a conditional sale agreement
  • Assistance dogs, sheep dogs, guard dogs or domestic pets
  • Food
  • Any animals, food or hazardous materials that are on the public highway and would cause a risk to other people if moved
  • Any vehicle displaying a valid disabled person's blue badge because it is used for the transport of a disabled person
  • A vehicle which is used for police, fire or ambulance work
  • A vehicle displaying a British Medical Association or other health emergency badge because it is being used for health emergency purposes
  • Any goods that are also your home, such as a houseboat, static caravan, campervan or tent.

The following items would probably not be considered essential for "basic domestic needs":

  • A television, DVD player or blu-ray player
  • A stereo or music player
  • A computer that isn't used for work or study
  • Designer clothing, if you have enough other clothing available
  • Non-essential kitchen equipment such as a mixer or food processor.

Sometimes it isn't clear which items are essential and which are not. The bailiff must discuss the needs of you and everyone else in your household with you, and reach agreement about which items should be classified as essential. The bailiff is not allowed to decide what is essential and what isn't without talking to your first.

Please seek debt advice from the Welfare Support Service on 0191 424 6040 if a bailiff has gained entry to your home.

Can a debt collection agency force entry to my property or seize goods for an unpaid debt?

Debt collection agencies are not the same as enforcement agents / bailiffs. Debt collection agencies cannot take your belongings and have no rights of entry to your property at any stage. They usually become involved in collecting debts after you have missed payments on credit debts such as loans, credit cards and store cards. They usually act before court action has been taken against you.

Can I be sent to prison for non-payment of my Council Tax?

Unlike most other debts, it is possible to go to prison for non-payment of Council Tax. However, it is highly unlikely. Prison is a last resort for Councils, and getting advice about your arrears should usually mean the situation never gets that far. You can only be sent to prison if a Council can prove that you have 'wilfully refused' or 'culpably neglected' to pay your Council Tax. You can't be sent to prison if you genuinely cannot afford to pay Council Tax. This is why it is very important to get debt advice and keep in touch with the Council so they know you are trying to resolve the situation.

My debts are getting out of control. What can I do?

If you are having debt problems it is important not to ignore them. Talk to the people you owe the money to and let them know that you are having problems. Most organisations will be more willing to help if you approach them first. You should also seek free impartial debt advice regarding your situation. This will allow you to ensure you income is maximised, you have access to budgeting advice and can discuss options/solutions for your overall situation. It is really important that you don't ignore your situation as it will usually only get worse. Seeking free impartial debt advice will allow you to find a way out of your debt situation.

You can seek impartial debt advice from the Welfare Support Service on 0191 424 6040.


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