Coronavirus advice and support

 May 2020

Fact sheet no. 74 Coronavirus advice and support

​The outbreak of coronavirus means that you may need to 'self-isolate'. This means you might have to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. This may impact on your ability to work, how much you earn, or stop you from doing things you normally need to do to claim benefits.

The Government and banks have said they will offer help to people if they are diagnosed with coronavirus and need to self-isolate. If you need more information about the symptoms of coronavirus, or advice about avoiding infection, go to the NHS website.

You may get other kinds of help if you are self-employed. Business Debtline can give you more information, see www.businessdebtline.org.

At risk of redundancy?

The Government has announced a job retention scheme which may be able to prevent the need for your employer to make you redundant. You would be classed as a furloughed worker, which means you are kept on your employer's payroll, rather than being laid off. Your employer needs to register you on the job retention scheme by 10 June 2020. The Scheme will run until the end of October 2020. Under the scheme:

  • ​HMRC will pay 80% of your wages to your employer who can then pay this to you;
  • a maximum of £2,500 per month can be paid​;
  • the pay can be back dated to 1 March 2020; and 
  • the Government will also pay towards some National Insurance and pension costs.​​
​To be furloughed in this way, you must have been on your employer’s payroll on 19 March 2020.​ ​If your employer has said that they may have to make you redundant as they can't afford your wage, ask them to contact HMRC to discuss the scheme and see if it can help. Your employer can make an application to the job retention scheme through GOV.UK​.

More information can be found on the GOV.UK​ website.

Even if your employer has already made you redundant, ask them about whether they could consider using this scheme instead​. If you were made redundant after 28 February 2020, your employer may be able to use the scheme if they rehire you.

In work and need to self-isolate?

The Government has announced changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for people affected by coronavirus who have to self-isolate. SSP will now be paid from the first day of sickness rather than the usual fourth day of sickness. You will also be able to claim SSP if you are caring for someone within the same household who shows symptoms of coronavirus and has been told to self-isolate. More information can be found on the GOV.UK website.

  • SSP is £94.25 per week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. To qualify, a worker must earn at least £118 per week.

If you are not eligible to receive SSP you can claim Universal Credit and/or new style Employment and Support Allowance.

Visit Turn2us​for more information about benefits and how to claim them.

Claim benefits

If you are unable to claim Statutory Sick Pay but coronavirus means you are too sick to work, you may be able to claim new style Employment and Support Allowance, as long as you have paid enough National Insurance contribution in the last two to three years

  • ​New style Employment and Support Allowance will now get paid from day one of your claim rather than the usual day eight
  • You can now claim new style Employment and Support Allowance online.
  • Income and savings that you or your partner have will not affect your claim.
​If you are able to work but have lost your job or work less than 16 hours per week, you may be able to claim new style Jobseekers Allowance​ as long as you have paid enough National Insurance contribution in the last two to three years.
 
  • ​You can get new style Jobseekers Allowance for up to six months and it will be paid every two weeks
  • Income and savings that you or your partner/spouse have will not affect your claim. 
If you aren’t able to get new style Employment and Support Allowance/new style Job Seekers allowance, or you can but need extra financial help, you will need to make a separate application for Universal Credit.

Important:

Universal Credit can affect other benefits

Making a claim for Universal Credit may mean that you lose other benefits you currently get, such as tax credits. 

Once you make a Universal Credit claim, your tax credit claim will stop and you cannot go back to tax credits. Before you apply for Universal Credit, try to get advice from a benefits adviser to check if you will be better off claiming Universal Credit. You can look for a local benefits adviser on the Turn2us website.

  • ​​Universal Credit is based on your household situation so your or your partner’s income and savings may affect how much you will get.
  • If you are making a new claim for Universal Credit you do not need to call anyone, claims can be made online​. If anything needs checking the DWP will call you back. 
  • There is a five week wait to receive your first Universal Credit payment. You can receive a month’s advance which you then pay back. 
You can use Citizens Advice Help to Claim service if you need additional support when making a Universal Credit application.
Visit Turn2us for more information about benefits and how to claim them. They have a benefits calculator​ to help you find out what you may be able to claim. ​

Already claiming benefits?

If you are claiming Universal Credit you may need to meet certain requirements to continue to receive the benefit. This could be job searching, periods of time at work, or attending regular meetings or assessments. Due to coronavirus the Government has announced that:

  • ​All face-to-face meetings have been cancelled, you may still be expected to have a meeting over the phone.
  • Work search requirements for Universal Credit and Job Seekers Allowance have been suspended for three months from 30 March 2020.
​If coronavirus means you are unable to carry out a task, you should phone the office paying the benefit to explain why. If you are claiming Universal credit, inform your work coach and explain what has happened in your online journal.

The Government has confirmed that if you are claiming sickness and disability benefits you will no longer need to attend face-to-face assessments for the next three months. This will apply if you receive Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit and possibly Universal Credit.

Special arrangements will be in place if you are in receipt of benefits and cannot attend reassessments or jobcentre appointments because you are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus. For example:

  • if you are disabled or sick and cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit you will continue to receive your payments while your assessment is rearranged.

You can find more details on GOV.UK.​

Important:

if you are already claiming Universal Credit

Make sure you explain in your online journal why you haven’t been unable to carry out any task as expected.

The Government has temporarily changed the way they work out Universal Credit for self-employed people on low incomes. You can contact the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644 for more information.

Post Office Card Accounts - cash delivery of some benefit payments 

You may be able to have your Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit payments delivered in cash to your home by Royal Mail Special Delivery if:

  • you have a Post Office Card Account;
  • live in England; and 
  • cannot leave your home because of shielding reasons. 
The National Shielding Service and DWP will decide whether this is suitable. If you haven’t already been contacted but feel that this service would help you, contact the DWP and ask whether you can be included in this scheme.​

Benefit increases

From 6 April 2020 the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit will be increased by £20 per week. This will apply to new and existing claimants. The exact amount you will receive will depend on your situation.

If you rent privately the maximum amount of help you can receive through Housing Benefit or Universal Credit has been increased to 30% of the average rents in all areas of the UK. This is called the Local Housing Allowance.

To find out more about how these changes may help you, please visit Turn2us. They have a benefit calculator​ to help you find out if and how much you may be able to claim.

Benefit overpayments

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has temporarily stopped taking action to recover:

  • DWP benefit overpayments;
  • tax credit debts being managed by the DWP; and
  • ​social fund loans.

The DWP will be suspending existing repayment methods that are in place, such as by direct debit, taking the overpayment from other benefits or taking it directly from wages. You do not need to contact the DWP to arrange for the suspension. However, if you pay through your bank, and wish to stop the payment, you should cancel the payment arrangement with your bank.

It is expected that the DWP will start taking payments again in July 2020. If you do stop the payment with your bank, you would need to restart payments from July 2020.

Sometimes the DWP uses debt collectors to ask you to pay a benefit overpayment. The DWP has told debt collectors acting for them to stop collecting these overpayments for the time being. The DWP has also said that it will not start any new recovery action​.

Eligible Loan Reduction Scheme​

 

The DWP are also pausing deductions from benefits for loans taken out using the Eligible Loan Reduction Scheme until at least July 2020. These loans are usually through credit unions or other not-for-profit organisations.

Check insurance policies

Check if you have an insurance policy which could increase your income or cover payments on essential items such as your mortgage. Contact the insurer to see what help you may be able to receive. You may have:

  • ​payment protection insurance;
  • ​mortgage payment protection insurance; or
  • accident, sickness or unemployment insurance.​

​Help from your insurance provider​

 

The FCA have said insurers should agree to a payment deferral of between one and three months. You can request a deferral any time until the 18 August 2020. If your insurer agrees to a payment deferral, your credit reference file will not be affected.

Your insurer may be able to accept reduced payments or change your payment date, speak to them to see how they can help.

Your bank or lender may be able to help

New measures brought in by the Financial conduct Authority (FCA)

The FCA has introduced new measures that may help if you have temporary financial difficulties because of coronavirus. The measures: 

  • ​​cover personal loans, credit cards, store cards, catalogues and overdrafts;
  • will not affect your credit file; and
  • ​start from 9 April 2020, although some lenders were being given until 14 April 2020 to put resources in place. 
​If you have been affected by coronavirus, you can ask for a temporary payment freeze on personal loans, credit cards, store cards and catalogues for up to three months. This means that you will not have to make a payment for the time agreed. Your lender will continue to charge Interest during the payment freeze, so it is likely that your payments will be higher once the payment freeze has ended. So, if you can afford to make the usual payment (or a part payment), continue to do so.

If you have been affected by coronavirus and already have an arranged overdraft on your main personal current account, you can ask for up to £500 of the overdraft borrowing to be charged at zero interest for three months. 

If you are interested in one of these measures, check your lender's website for information. Where possible, use online services to ask for support. You can call your lender, but it may take quite a while to get through.

The FCA recently introduced other rules for overdrafts. Under those rules lenders can only charge a single annual interest rate for arranged and unarranged overdrafts, with no additional daily charges. Under the new FCA measures, your lender will also have to make sure that you are not paying more than you would have paid for your overdraft compared to the prices charged before the recent changes came into force.

See the FCA’s Coronavirus: information for consumers on personal loans, credit cards and overdrafts​ for more information about the new measures

Other bank debts

If you are struggling to pay unsecured bank debts that are not covered by the new FCA measures, you can still contact your bank to explain your situation. Each bank will consider what help it may give on a case by case basis. Go to their website to see what help is available. You can also call your bank, but be aware that you may have to wait some time. 

If you agree a payment holiday with your bank because of problems caused by coronavirus, it shouldn't negatively affect your credit reference file. This has been agreed by credit reference agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. 

Some banks are also allowing people to access their fixed-savings accounts without a penalty. Contact your bank, explain your situation and see how they can help.

Avoid taking out more credit unless you know that you can afford to pay it back. 

If you have debts which are now unaffordable contact us for advice. Whilst you are waiting to receive the advice you need you can send your creditors a letter asking them to hold action on your acc​ount​ due to coronavirus​.

Help with your mortgage

The Government has announced that if you are affected by the coronavirus and struggle to pay your mortgage you may be able to receive a three month payment holiday. This means you will not have to make repayment for three months. However, interest will continue to accrue during this time​. 

If you have not yet had a payment holiday you have until 31 October 2020 to request one. From 4 June, if you have already had a payment holiday and need further help, your lender may be able to offer a further three-month full or part payment holiday. Speak to your lender to see if this may be an option.​

  • ​Your lender will look at your individual circumstances and offer support on a case-by-case basis.
  • You will need to make up the payments that have been deferred; this could be over the remaining term of the mortgage.
  • If a payment holiday is agreed then it will not affect your credit file. However, lenders may review your bank account if you apply for more credit. As a result, in some cases this could affect their lending decision.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has issued guidance for lenders and useful Mortgage and

coronavirus: information for consumers.

If you have other loans secured on your home and it is the right decision for you, you can also ask your lender if they will give you a payment holiday on those loans too.

The FCA has also announced that no repossession action should be taken by lenders until 31 October 2020.​

In England and Wales, the court service also announced that from 27 March 2020, it will suspend all new and ongoing possession action for at least 90 days.

If you have been sent an eviction notice, contact the court that is dealing with your case to check that the action is being suspended. If it is not being suspended, contact Shelter for advice straight away.

If you cannot afford to pay your mortgage or already have arrears, contact your lender as soon as possible to discuss your situation.

If you are at risk of repossession and your lender is unhelpful, contact:

Information is also available on their websites.

Help to Buy customers

The Government has confirmed a possible three month repayment holiday if you have been affected by the coronavirus and have Help to Buy loans.

For more details contact the Help to Buy: Equity Loan administrator on 0345 848 0236. if the loan was taken out in wales you should contact Help to Buy (Wales) Ltd​ on 029 2080 3451.

Help with your rent

The Government has introduced new temporary laws to protect tenants. From 26 March 2020 until 30 September 2020, landlords must give at least three months' notice before they can start court action to evict you.

In England and Wales, the court service also announced that from 27 March 2020, it will suspend all new and ongoing possession action for at least 90 days.

If you claim Housing Benefit or Universal Credit with help towards housing costs, you may be able to claim a Discretionary Housing Payment. A Discretionary Housing Payment can give you extra money to pay towards your rent. You should be able to claim online, check with your local council​

If you cannot afford to pay your rent or already have arrears, contact your landlord as soon as possible to discuss your situation. If your landlord is unhelpful, contact:

  • Shelter on 0808 800 4444 if you live in England; or
  • Shelter Cymru on 0800 049 5495 if you live in Wales.
  • Information is also available on their websites.

    Extra advice if you are in Scotland

    The Housing and Property Chamber​ has postponed all scheduled hearings, they are due to restart from 28 May 2020. This means if a decision to evict you has not already been made, you can't be evicted from your property before this date.

    If you have a case that has been postponed, you will be notified when you should attend the Tribunal.

    The Scottish Government has passed a temporary law to protect tenants in Scotland during coronavirus.

    In most cases you will now need to be given six months' notice by your landlord, unless they are ending the tenancy for certain reasons. This includes antisocial and criminal behaviour and where the landlord or their family need to move into the property.​ More information can be found at Shelter Scotland​.

    If your landlord is unhelpful and you need more support, contact Shelter Scotland​ on 0808 800 4444.

Help with your Council Tax

Councils in England have received guidance from the Government on how they should use new funding to help households in their area.

If you currently get help from the Council Tax Reduction scheme (also called Council Tax Support) and are of working-age, you may see your council tax bill for 2020-2021 reduce by a further £150.

  • ​You do not need to have been directly affected by coronavirus to be eligible
  • You do not need to apply to the council for this extra reduction. Councils already have details of households that get help through the Council Tax Reduction scheme and should contact you directly.​

Your 2020-2021 council tax bill

Some councils are changing the months during which they collect council tax payments for the 2020-2021 tax year. Instead of collecting payments from April 2020 to January 2021, some councils are collecting payments from June 2020 to March 2021. This means that if you usually pay your council tax in 10 instalments, the months that you would not pay council tax would be April and May 2020, rather than February and March 2021. Check with your council to see if they are making this change.

If your council is not making this change and you will struggle to pay your council tax in April 2020, contact your council and explain this to them.

Councils may give further help if you are dealing with exceptional circumstances.​

Help from your energy provider

Energy providers have agreed that the disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended. Also, if you are self-isolating and unable to top up your pre-payment meter, you can:

  • nominate a third party for credit top ups;
  • have a discretionary fund added to your credit; or
  • have a pre-loaded top up card sent so that your supply is not interrupted.

If you are struggling to manage repayments to your energy provider contact them to see what help they can provide. New guidance means that your debt repayments and bill payments ​could be reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary.

More information can be found on the GOV.UK website.​

If you are a vulnerable person, you could ask your energy provider to place you on the Priority Services Register. The Priority Services Register can help to make sure that you receive all the appropriate support you need. You can find out who may be classed as vulnerable and what help is available by visiting Ofgem​.

Help from your water company

Water companies have agreed to help customers in a variety of ways because of the coronavirus crisis. Water UK have said that companies are:

  • stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current restrictions, and stopping any enforcement visits;
  • actively offering payment breaks or payment holidays for anyone in financial difficulties as a result of coronavirus; and
  • adjusting payment plans urgently to help with sudden changes in household finances.
Each water company will have its own scheme, contact them directly to see what help can be provided.

A full list of possible support and more detail can be found on WaterUK's website.

In Scotland you’ll usually pay for your water through your council tax bill.  However, if you have a water meter then you’ll pay Scottish Water.  If you have a water meter and are struggling to pay your bill, contact Scottish Water to see how they can help.

Help from your mobile or broadband provider

Most of the main broadband and mobile companies have introduced a range of measures to try and help:

  • Providers will help if you are struggling to pay your bill, they will make sure you are treated fairly. Contact them if you are struggling to pay your bill.
  • They have committed to remove all data caps on fixed broadband services. Check with your provider if you aren’t sure if this applies to you.
  • You could now be offered a new package to help you stay connected. Some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from home phones or mobiles. Contact your provider to see if you could benefit from this.​

​Help with your TV licence

TV Licensing have taken steps to help if you are struggling to pay your TV licence.

  • If you are unable to keep up with payments, call them on 0300 555 0300 to see how they can help.
  • All arrears letters have stopped being been sent to people who have fallen behind on payments.
  • Collection visits by officers have also been stopped.
  • If you are in financial hardship and urgently need to stop your Direct Debit payments, call them on 0300 790 6068. If you are unable to get through, cancel the Direct Debit with your bank. You will need to make up any payments that you miss later on.​

TV Licensing has fewer staff answering calls at the moment so it will more difficult to speak to someone. If you need to make a payment, there are other ways you can try and pay.​

Help with other kinds of debt

The FCA has also announced measures to help if you have other types of lending and have temporary financial difficulties because of coronavirus.

Payday loans

If you have payday loan your lender should allow you a one month payment freeze, no interest will be added during this payment freeze. After the payment freeze ends, you should be allowed to repay the deferred payment in an affordable way.

Buy-now-pay-later, rent-to-own and pawnbroker debts

If you have a buy-now-pay-later, rent-to-own or pawnbroker agreement, lenders should allow you a three month payment freeze. Interest will continue to be added during this time, so it’s likely your payment will be higher once the payment freeze has ended. After the payment freeze period ends, you should be allowed to repay the deferred payments and interest in an affordable way. This could be longer than your original repayment date.

If a payment freeze is agreed with your lender because of problems caused by coronavirus, it should not negatively affect your credit reference file.

If you have a buy-now-pay-later agreement and your interest free promotional period is coming to an end, your lender can extend this for three months

If you have a rent-to-own agreement, the length of the agreement can be extended. If you need the items during the period that these FCA guidelines are in place, the items should not be repossessed.

If you have a pawnbroker agreement, your pawnbroker can extend the redemption period for three months. If your redemption period had already passed, your pawnbroker should delay selling the item for three months.

Speak to your lender about the help they can provide if you have been affected by coronavirus.

Motor finance ​

If you have a vehicle on a hire purchase, personal contract purchase (PCP), or hire agreement and you can’t make your payments because of coronavirus, you can be given a three-month payment break. You may also be able to get help if you want to keep the vehicle but your agreement is coming to an end. If you don’t want to keep the vehicle, or can’t afford to keep it in the longer term, you may have a number of different options depending on the kind of agreement you have. If you need to negotiate reduced payments, want to keep the vehicle for longer, or want to end the agreement early, contact us for advice

If you have only missed payments because of temporary financial problems caused by coronavirus, your lender should not normally take steps to repossess the vehicle​.

Bailiffs

The rules which bailiffs in England and Wales have to comply with have been updated due to coronavirus. While the coronavirus lockdown restrictions are in place, bailiffs are not allowed to take control of goods at residential premises or on highways.

Magistrates' court hearings

Magistrates' courts are limiting the number of cases that are being heard. If you have been told to attend a magistrates' court hearing, it is important that you attend. However, to avoid an unnecessary journey, we suggest that you contact the court that is dealing with your case to check whether your hearing is going ahead.

If you have questions about an outstanding magistrates’ court fine, you should contact the National Compliance and Enforcement Service by emailing  NCESBCT@justice.gov.uk or by calling 0300 123 9252.

Sheriff court fines and hearings

As the courts have temporarily suspended their counter facilities for the payment of fines, you may need to choose another way of paying. For most fines you can use the court online payment system or automated phone system. However, for penalties that need your driving licence to be endorsed, you will need to send your payment and driving licence by post. For more information, see the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website.

If you have been told to attend a court hearing, it is important that you attend. However, to avoid an unnecessary journey, we suggest that you contact the court that is dealing with your case to check whether your hearing is going ahead.

Extra support

Food parcels

The Government has started to deliver food parcels to those most at risk from coronavirus. To receive a food parcel you need to have a medical condition which makes you extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. You can register as a clinically extremely vulnerable person on the GOV.UK website.

Free school meals

If your child is eligible for free school meals the school should make sure that they continue to provide this. The school may send food parcels or give you supermarket food vouchers during term time weeks. Speak to your child’s school to check that this is being done for you. More detail can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Food banks

If you are struggling to buy food, many food banks are staying open to support people during the coronavirus crisis. However the numbers of sessions are being reduced and you will be given or sent a pre-packed food parcel. You can find your local food bank through The Trussell Trust.

Grants

Many charities offer non-repayable grants to people who are struggling financially. To see if there are any grants which may be able to help you visit Turn2us​.

Council assistance support schemes

If you live in England you can apply to the welfare assistance scheme, each council runs their own scheme. Vouchers can be given to help pay for day-to-day essentials such as a hot meal, furniture or household appliances. Contact your local council to see if they can benefit from the scheme.

If you live in Scotland you can apply for a Crisis Gra​nt​​. The grant can cover the cost of an emergency such as, an unexpected crisis or a gap in your normal income.

If you live in Wales you can apply for an Emergency Assistance Payment. The payment can help cover the cost of food, clothing, gas, electric and emergency travel.​

Debt advice

To get personal advice on how to deal with your debts, use our Digital Advice Tool. Tell us about your situation and your debts, and our tool will advise you on the solutions suitable for you.

Visit nationaldebtline.org and click ‘Get started’ in the ‘Find debt solutions’ box. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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