Bills and bank accounts

It’s important to keep track of your bills and bank accounts, although this can be hard.

Paying by direct debit ensures your bills are automatically paid on time. You need to have money in your bank account on the payment date. If you aren’t sure when you’ll have money, making individual payments might be best. Some insurance policies charge interest if you pay by direct debit.

Contact the company providing the goods or service to set up direct debit. You can also pay by standing order - this can be useful for bills that are the same each month.

You can pay a lot of bills online. Contact the company providing the goods or service to arrange this.

If you’re finding it hard to pay your bills, it’s especially important to pay any priority debts. These include:

  • mortgages
  • rent
  • council tax/rates
  • utility bills
  • TV licence
  • tax and VAT.

You may want to ask someone you trust to help with your banking. You can do this through a third party mandate or using a joint bank account.

As a safety measure, you could keep a small amount of money in a separate account. Remember not to give anyone your PIN number.

Tips for managing your bills and bank accounts

Many of us find it hard to keep track of our bills and bank accounts. Remember that: 

  • You can pay most bills and check your bank accounts online. This is often easier and quicker. It also helps you check your accounts more often.
  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, some banks, water and energy companies have their own apps that can help you manage your account.
  • Avoid paying bills late, as you may be charged extra. Credit card providers will charge you a penalty each time you miss the payment date and it may affect your credit rating.


Direct debit

The simplest way to ensure that your bills are automatically paid on time is to pay by direct debit. You can do this for most bills, including council tax, water rates, fuel (gas and electricity), phone and your TV licence. Fuel and phone providers often give a discount if you arrange to pay this way.

If you’re paying by direct debit, make sure you have the money in your account on the payment date. If you find it harder to know when you’ll have money, paying bills individually may work better for you.

You can even arrange to pay your credit card balance by direct debit. You choose whether to pay off the full amount each month, a set amount or the minimum repayment.

However, be careful paying for insurance by direct debit. Some policies – including many car or home insurance policies – treat it as a loan when you arrange to pay monthly rather than in one payment, and will charge you interest.

To arrange to pay a regular bill by direct debit, contact the company providing the goods or service.

You can also pay by standing order. Unlike direct debits, you specify how much is paid each month and this cannot be changed without your agreement. Standing orders can be useful for fixed monthly bills that do not change.


Online payments

If you’re confident that you’ll get around to paying bills, but find it hard to get to a post box, post office or bank, consider paying the bills online. This is now possible for most fuel, phone and credit card bills. Some companies give you a discount if you pay this way. If you have an online bank account, you can make all your bill payments online.

To arrange to pay a regular bill online, contact the company providing the goods or service. To sign up for online or telephone banking, contact your bank. Or, if you prefer, you could make all your payments using telephone banking.


Prioritising your bills

If you’re finding it hard to pay your bills, don’t ignore the problem. Debts quickly get worse if they’re ignored. It’s especially important to deal with any priority debts. These are important debts. If you do not pay them, there will be a serious effect. For example, if you don’t pay your mortgage, you could lose your home.

We have more information about these below.

Mortgage/secured loan

If mortgage payments aren’t made for a few months, your property or home may be repossessed. However, there are schemes designed to help people struggling with mortgage payments. Visit GOV.UK (England, Scotland and Wales) and nidirect (Northern Ireland) and search for ‘mortgages’ for more information.

Rent arrears (unpaid rent)

You could be evicted after eight weeks if you don’t pay your rent. If you’ve made an application for Housing Benefit (or Universal Credit) to cover your rent, it’s important to make sure your landlord is aware of this.

Council tax or rates

In England, Scotland and Wales, you could face a magistrate’s court fine or eventually more serious action if you miss council tax payments. In Northern Ireland, you could be taken to court for not paying your rates.

Unpaid gas or electricity bills

Your gas and/or electricity may be disconnected if you don’t pay these debts, but explaining your circumstances to your energy supplier may stop this from happening. If you’re ‘vulnerable’ and are unable to pay your bills, most of the major energy suppliers will not disconnect your supply. But you have to let them know that you’re classed as ‘vulnerable’. You might be ‘vulnerable’ for reasons of age, health, disability or severe financial insecurity.

Fines, maintenance and compensation orders

You may face a magistrate’s court (sheriff’s court in Scotland) fine for failing to pay these.

TV licence

You may face a magistrate's/sheriff’s court fine for failing to pay your TV licence. A bailiff (a person legally authorised to recover a debt) may be given the right to take your possessions.

Tax and VAT

Failing to pay these means you will be charged interest and penalties, may be taken to court and your possessions up to the value of what you owe may be seized. You may face a magistrate's/sheriff’s court fine for failing to pay.

Hire purchase and conditional sale agreements

Hire purchase is a scheme that lets you own a product while paying for it in small instalments. Items you have purchased using these may be repossessed.

Parking penalties

Civil action could be taken and your vehicle could be seized if you do not pay these penalties. They should be treated as priority debts because of the level of action that can be taken.


Bank and building society accounts

For information about different types of bank accounts, visit the Money Advice Service website.

When you’re coping with cancer and its effects, having someone else help you with banking tasks may take some of the pressure off you. There are two main ways someone else can help you run your account:

  • A third-party mandate is where you arrange for your bank to accept instructions made on your behalf by someone else, such as your partner or carer. The account remains yours, but that person will be able to make withdrawals, write cheques and carry out other transactions in your name. A bank doesn’t have to agree to allow a third-party mandate.
  • A joint account is owned by two people. You can alter an existing account so that it’s held jointly with someone else (your partner, for example) or open a new joint account with them. They become the joint owner of the money in the account with you. They would be able to write cheques and make other decisions and, if you died, they would automatically inherit the whole account.

In either case, it’s essential that you can completely trust the person helping you run the account. As an extra safety measure, consider opening a separate bank account for this purpose and just keeping a limited amount of money in it. To set up a third party mandate or open a joint account, contact your bank.

A further option would be to give someone power of attorney to run your financial affairs on your behalf. We have more information about sorting out your affairs.

Protect your PIN

PIN stands for personal identification number. This is a code that you use to authorise a transaction when you use a debit, credit or cash card at a cash machine or a keypad in a shop.

Even if you want someone else to make payments or cash withdrawals for you, don’t give them your debit, credit or cash card and PIN. By giving away your PIN, you’re breaking your bank’s rules, and if money goes missing from your account, the bank could refuse to refund it.

When you set up a third-party mandate or joint account, the person helping you can have their own card and PIN.


Post office card account

A post office card account (POCA) accepts state benefit and pension payments and lets you draw them out in cash at post offices using a card and pin. If you find it hard to get to a post office, you could choose to have your benefits paid into a bank or building society account.

You can ask to be paid by cheque instead. You can then sign the cheque on the back to authorise someone else to cash it for you. This could be convenient if several different people will be helping you.

Getting help

You can apply for one person (called your ‘permanent agent’) to be given permanent access to your POCA. They will be issued with their own card and pin so they can take out cash and check your balance for you. Make sure anyone you choose as your agent is a person you trust.

To appoint someone as a permanent agent for your POCA, get an application form from a post office. To ask for payment of benefits by cheque, contact the office responsible for making the payment. Details should be on the paperwork showing your benefit entitlement.

Back to Managing your money day to day

Planning your budget

Having a weekly or monthly budget can help you manage your day-to-day finances.

Your income

Living with cancer may affect your finances. It’s important to make sure you have enough money to pay for your expenses.

Borrowing

Make sure you’ve considered other options before borrowing money. Choose the cheapest type of borrowing and know how you’ll make repayments.

Taxes

It’s important to make sure you’re paying the right tax. This includes checking if you are owed a tax rebate.