What is the help to save scheme?

Image of author, Maxine McCreadie

Maxine McCreadie


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Help to save is a Government scheme aimed at low-income people and does exactly what it sounds like – helps people on universal credit and other benefits to build up their savings.

In this guide we’ll examine the help to save scheme, including what it is, how help to save works, and how you can apply for the savings scheme.

Help to save is a Government-based programme that helps people on low incomes, who are claiming benefits like working tax credit and Universal Credit, to build up their savings.

Anyone using the scheme can open up a bank account and pay money into that account each month. The help to save account stays open for four years, after which it will be closed.

The Government scheme allows you to save between £1 and £50 every calendar month in your help to save account, although you are under no obligation to save money every month.

How does the help to save scheme work?

The scheme encourages low income people to save using a system of bonus payments, which are paid out in years two and four of the scheme.

However much your account’s highest balance was after two years and four years, you will receive a 50% bonus on top of that figure, up to a maximum bonus payment of £1,200. Effectively, the Government gives you 50p for every £1 you save over four years.

You can withdraw money from your account at any time, the same way you would your regular UK bank account. It’s also possible to close your account down at any time, although people are only entitled to open one help to save account. If you close your account early, you won’t be able to open a new one.

Help to save accounts are held by the National Savings & Investment (NS&I) platform, and bonus checks for selected banks are distributed there. The NS&I is the savings provider the Government uses itself, so you savings should be safe, secure, and ready when you need them.

How is the bonus calculated and paid out?

Help to save is a savings account which gives a 50% bonus to a £1 saving over four years. The account calculates and pays out a tax-free bonus in years two and four, and will be paid into a nominated bank account (on you choose when you apply) rather than the help to save account itself.

Year two bonus

The first bonus is calculated on the basis of 50% of the highest balance achieved within the first two years since the account opened, with a maximum bonus of £1,200 being paid into your nominated bank account.

Year four bonus

The second bonus is paid at the end of the fourth year, and once again will be equal to 50% of the highest balance you achieved in your third and fourth years.

That means if you accrued the maximum saving of £50 each month in years three and four, you would have saved £1,200, and would receive a bonus payment of £600. The year four bonus is your final bonus payment as your help to save account will be closed after four years.

Which benefits qualify you for the help to save scheme?

You will be eligible for the help to save scheme if you are receiving certain qualifying benefits.

Universal credit

You can open a help to save account if you’re both claiming universal credit, and you’re household income in your last monthly assessment period was £542.88 or more (even if you’re receiving universal credit, universal credit payments don’t count as part of your household income.

Working tax credit and child tax credit

Even if you are not receiving working tax credit – but are entitled to working tax credit – you will be eligible for a help to save account. It’s a similar story with child tax credit payments. As long as you are eligible for the tax credits, you will be eligible for the scheme, even if you aren’t currently receiving them.

Is there other eligibility criteria for the help to save scheme?

As well as claiming Universal Credit or working tax credit, you can also qualify for the help to save scheme if you’re:

  • Currently living in the UK
  • Applying for separate help to save accounts (if you’re in a relationship and you and your partner receive joint benefits payments)
  • Are a member of the British armed forces, their spouse, or civil partner
  • Are a crown servant, their spouse or civil partner

Even if you eventually stop claiming benefits you can keep your help to save account open as long as you were claiming qualifying benefits when the account was set up.

How do I set up a help to save account?

HM Revenue & Customs app

The easiest way to open a help to save account is online, either through the HMRC website or via the HMRC app.

You’ll need the following information:

  • Government gateway account
  • Bank account details
  • Your national insurance number

Over the phone

If you are struggling with an online application then you can get in touch with HMRC via telephone, just call 0300 322 7093.

Will the help to save affect my IVA?

It’s more complex to operate a help to save account if you’re in a debt solution like an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), although it’s not impossible.

With an IVA, any additional income over £500 needs to be put towards your debts. If you receive the maximum help to save bonus of £600, for example, you won’t be able to keep it.

That said, it is possible to save as you go during an IVA, either by agreeing with your IP to a modest savings budget (likely no more than £20 per month) or spending less than your budget for living costs, and putting the excess in you help to save account.

If you’re in an IVA, it’s important that you discuss any potential savings with your Insolvency Practitioner before opening a help to save account.

Where can I get debt advice and more information on improving my finances?

If you’re someone on low income who’s interested in building up their savings, or maybe you’re struggling with debt problems and you want to put your money worries behind you, we can help.

At IVA Plan, our team of money advisers have the expertise you need to get your financial life back on track. For more information on money management from a friendly, impartial adviser, reach out to IVA Plan today.