Getting ready for advice
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. We also have a version for Scotland if you need it.
We know that when you are struggling with debt, writing down your income and outgoings might feel like the last thing you want to do. But filling in your budget is the starting point for dealing with your debts.
You can’t know if a debt solution will work for you without doing a budget. All advice agencies will expect you to do a budget before they can discuss your options. Your creditors will also ask for one. A budget shows you:
- what money you have coming in (your income);
- what money you are spending (your outgoings);
- whether you have enough money to pay your essential bills; and
- what is available, if anything, to pay your debts.
This information helps you to find the best solution to deal with your debts.
It also allows you to:
- plan for future spending; and
- protect yourself against the stress that unexpected bills or increased costs can cause.
If you have time, it is best to have a go at completing your budget before you contact us for advice. However, there are some situations where you should just get advice as soon as you can.
Contact us straightaway if any of the following applies in the next five working days.
- You have bailiffs (also known as 'enforcement agents') visiting to collect any of your debts.
- You are being evicted or made homeless.
- Your gas or electricity supply is being cut off.
- You have a court hearing.
- You have received a letter or court form that gives you a deadline that will expire during this time.
If our phone and webchat services aren’t open, you can find out more about emergency debt advice on our website.
Digital Advice Tool
The best way to fill in a budget is to use our Digital Advice Tool.
It is accessible 24/7, so you can fill it in at a time that suits you. You can also save it and come back to it later.
- You can access tips that will help you complete the budget.
- Once you’ve finished the budget, you’ll get tailored advice. This can include suggestions about changes you could make to your budget.
- If you call us for advice, our advisers will be able to see all the information you have given, so you won’t have to start again or repeat yourself.
If you don’t want to use our Digital Advice Tool, you can view or download a blank budget instead. Do not send a copy of this to your creditors. We will help you create a summary budget for creditors. Phone us for help once you have filled the blank budget in.
Priority and non-priority debts
On your budget, you will be asked to say which debts are priority debts and which are non-priority debts. This depends on your circumstances and the powers that a creditor can use to collect the debt.
Our Digital Advice Tool will help you work out which debts need to be treated as a priority. If you aren’t using the Digital Advice Tool, just gather information about all your debts. When you call us, our adviser will help you decide which debts are priorities when you complete your budget with them.
What you need to start
You need accurate up-to-date information about all your income and spending. This includes the following.
- Wage slips
- Benefit statements
- Pension-income statements
- Bank statements
- Utility bills (such as gas, electricity and water)
Make a start today
Gather together the paperwork listed. You don’t need to speak to anyone to do this.
If all your income and outgoings go through your bank account, most of the information you need will be in your bank statements.
You will also need your latest letters from your creditors, so you know how much you owe. If you haven’t kept the letters from your creditors, or need more up-to-date figures, contact your creditors and ask them how much you owe. If you would prefer not to speak to them on the phone, send them an email or letter instead.
If you do speak to your creditors about what you owe, do not agree to a payment arrangement. It is important that you only offer what you can afford to pay. You won’t know what this is until you have done your budget.
If you aren’t sure who you owe money to, it may help to get a free copy of your credit report. To get a copy of your credit report, contact the credit reference agency and fill in an application form. You can usually apply in writing, by phone or online. See the following section Getting your credit reports.
Getting your credit reports
There are three credit reference agencies, and they may each hold different information about you. So, if you aren’t sure what you owe, it is usually best to get a report from all three.
You can get a statutory credit report for free. This will show all the debts that the agency knows about. You can apply for a statutory report online.
- For an Experian report, go to www.experian.co.uk/consumer/statutory-report.html.
- For an Equifax report, go to www.equifax.co.uk/Products/credit/statutory-report.html.
- For a TransUnion report, go to www.transunionstatreport.co.uk/CreditReport/AboutYou.
You may not be able to get another free statutory credit report if you have already received one recently. There may be other ways of getting this information for free. Contact us for advice on how to do this.
If your creditors are not currently contacting you, you may find that they start to contact you again after you make this request. If you are worried about this, contact us for advice first.
Debts that you haven’t dealt with for several years
If you haven’t written to a creditor or made a payment towards a particular debt for several years, contact us for advice before you send them an email or letter.
Do you have any assets?
We will ask you for information about any assets that you own. This is because:
- some debt solutions can put certain assets at risk; and
- in some cases, you may be able to use your assets as a way of dealing with your debts.
Think about whether you own anything of value (assets), such as a car or your home. If you do own any assets, how much do you think they are worth? Knowing whether you own any assets, and their approximate value, will help us work out which debt solutions are best for you.