Skip to main content
Shelter Logo

Getting debt advice

If you’re dealing with debt, there are free advice services that can help. A debt adviser can support you to:

  • get benefits and grants

  • reduce your costs and make a budget

  • negotiate with creditors and manage your repayments

Check where to get advice in your area and how it can help you.

Where to get money and debt advice

There are national charities that give advice online, over the phone, or in person:

You could also find a local service near you that provides debt advice. Search for services in your area using one of these tools:

If you have rent or mortgage arrears and you’re worried about eviction or repossession, contact a Shelter Scotland adviser.

Be wary of debt solutions advertised by companies online. You may end up paying more than you need to. Get advice from an approved money adviser at a registered charity.

When you should get debt advice

There are some signs that you should get advice as soon as possible.

You’re struggling to pay priority debts

Priority debts include any debts that could put you at risk of homelessness:

Priority debts also include money you owe to the council or government, because these can have serious legal consequences. The money could be taken directly from your wages or benefits. For example:

  • council tax arrears

  • unpaid income tax or National Insurance

  • overpaid tax credits

  • criminal fines

  • child maintenance arrears

Your household bills are priority debts because essential services like gas or electricity could be cut off. If you're behind on energy bills, talk to your supplier and explain your circumstances, and check if you could get help with energy costs.

Non-priority debts include things like overdrafts, credit cards, store cards, catalogue debts, payday loans, and loans from family or friends. These have less serious consequences if you do not pay them.

Always focus on paying priority debts first, even if your non-priority debts are larger.

You’ve had letters about legal action

Get advice right away if you receive:

  • any letters about arrears from your landlord or mortgage provider

  • a charge for payment, a summary warrant, or any other letters from the sheriff’s office

Do not ignore these letters, as the consequences could be very serious. An adviser can support you and help prevent further legal action.

If you're getting letters or phone calls about non-priority debts, get advice before agreeing to repayments.

Debt collectors do not have the same powers as sheriff officers. They cannot enter your home, take your belongings or force you to pay more than you can afford. They must follow a strict legal process and take you to court to recover the debt.

How an adviser can help you

A debt adviser will not judge you or pressure you. Their job is to help you understand all your options and get your debt under control.

Accessing money

Your adviser will check if you can claim any benefits and help you apply. Even if you’re in work or you already get benefits, you might be missing out on money you’re entitled to.

If you need emergency money help, your adviser will look for crisis grants, charity grants and other funds. They can apply for these on your behalf.

Budgeting and reducing costs

Your adviser will look at the details of your income and outgoings. They’ll help you find ways to cut your costs, and work with you to make a monthly budget.

Based on your budget, your adviser will work out how much you can afford to pay towards your debts each month.

Negotiating with creditors

Many debts can be negotiated to reduce your monthly payments. Your adviser can contact creditors on your behalf to agree on affordable repayment plans.

Creditors may be less likely to take action against you if they know you’re engaging with debt advice.

Recommending debt solutions

Your adviser might recommend a formal debt solution based on your circumstances. For example, you could be eligible for a debt management plan, where you pay back what you can afford and the money is split between your creditors.

StepChange has advice on the different types of debt solutions. Usually you can only access these solutions with an adviser’s help.

What information you’ll need

Before speaking to a money and debt adviser, it can help to gather information about:

  • all of your debts, including how much you owe and how long you’ve had the debt

  • any missed payments

  • any actions creditors have taken to recover the debt

  • your income and outgoings

Collect any documents about your debts, like letters, contracts and statements.

If you’re not sure about the details of any of your debts, the adviser can help you work out where to find the information.

Last updated: 16 February 2024

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England