Get help with your bills

If you’re facing a sharp drop in your income due to the coronavirus crisis, it’s vital to look at ways you might be able to ease some of the financial pressure.

Several new measures have already been introduced to help those who are finding it difficult to keep up with their bills – and from tomorrow (April 9) banks are expected to provide more support for credit card, loan and overdraft customers. Much of this help takes the form of payment holidays, where your monthly payments are paused temporarily. Whilst this can provide a valuable lifeline in the short term, it’s important to remember there are costs attached and your bills may be higher when payment holidays end.

Here’s our rundown of some of the ways you might be able to get help.

Mortgages

If you think you’re not going to be able to afford to pay your mortgage, contact your lender as soon as possible to discuss the options that might be available to you.

For example, you could consider taking a three-month mortgage payment holiday to give yourself a bit of financial breathing space. Bear in mind, however, that you are simply deferring these payments so that when you start paying for your mortgage again, your monthly payments will be slightly higher. You can find out what taking a mortgage payment holiday will mean for your future repayments with comparison site MoneySuperMarket.com’s mortgage payment holiday calculator. Read more about how mortgage payment holidays work in our article “everything you need to know about taking a mortgage payment holiday“.

There may be other options available which could help make your monthly payments more manageable. You might be able to move your mortgage from a repayment to an interest-only basis, although you’ll need to be able to demonstrate to your lender that you’ve got a plan in place to pay back the capital you owe at the end of your mortgage term. Alternatively, if you’re not tied into your current mortgage deal, you could think about remortgaging to a cheaper rate to reduce your monthly payments. Many lenders have reduced the maximum amount they will lend during the coronavirus crisis, so you’ll typically only be able to borrow up to 75% of your property’s value, although some have restricted this to 60%.

Fee-free mortgage brokers such as London & Country Mortgages, Habito or Trussle should be able to advise on the best remortgage deals which you’ll be eligible for.

If you’re renting, let your landlord know as soon as possible if you’re not going to be able to pay your rent. They may be able to negotiate a buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday with their lender or work out a way you can temporarily reduce your payments. Landlords can’t start eviction proceedings against tenants until they have missed more than three months of rent payments, so even if yours is unsympathetic, they can’t ask you to leave straight away. The charity Shelter has plenty of useful information and housing advice for those financially impacted by coronavirus.

Overdrafts

The city regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced last week that banks should take action to support those affected by the coronavirus crisis.

After a short consultation, the changes they’ve suggested are expected to come into effect this Thursday. Under the new measures, if you have an agreed overdraft with your bank, you’ll be able to ask for 0% interest to be charged on the first £500. If you don’t already have an agreed overdraft, you can request one from your bank and the first £500 will be interest-free.

Many banks had planned to hike their overdraft charges at the start of the tax year, but the FCA has said that no-one should now pay more than they used to.

Credit cards and personal loans

Under the FCA’s latest proposals, you can request a payment holiday for up to three months if you have a credit card or personal loan.

You won’t need to make any repayments during the three-month period, but banks can still charge you interest during the payment holiday.  This will be added to your balance so that when you start paying back what you owe, it will cost you more and take you longer to clear your debt.

Several credit card providers, including Nationwide, HSBC and First Direct have already introduced payment holidays for credit card customers and have said they will waive fees for missed payments and offer emergency credit limit increases if necessary.  Similarly, loan providers including Halifax, Lloyds and Santander are offering payment holidays to loan customers.

If you think you’re going to need a payment holiday, get in touch with your credit card or loan provider as soon as possible. Some have online forms which you can submit so you don’t have to wait on the phone to speak to someone. It’s important to request a payment holiday in advance, rather than simply not making a payment. Taking a payment holiday shouldn’t affect your credit rating, whereas simply missing a payment will count against your credit score and could incur further charges.

Energy bills

energy bills help

If you don’t think you’re going to be able to afford to pay your energy bills over the next few months, contact your energy provider and see if they can defer your payments temporarily. Most of the big suppliers, such as British Gas, Npower, EDF and E.on have said that they will delay bill due dates, and EDF Energy, Npower, Scottish Power, and a few other providers have confirmed they will allow energy customers who are struggling financially, to repay what they owe over longer periods.

You should also check your tariff as you may be able to reduce your bills by switching to a cheaper deal. The best tariff for you will depend on where you live and how much energy you use. You can compare gas and electricity prices and move to a better deal using a comparison site such as uSwitch.com, energyhelpline.com or MoneySuperMarket.com. According to energyhelpline.com, 10% of customers switching their gas and electricity suppliers via its site between January and September last year saved £461 or more.

If you have a pre-payment meter and are unable to top it up either because you are ill with coronavirus or have to self-isolate you may be able to get a top-up card or key with credit on it posted at your home. Get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible so that they can send one out to you.

Water bills

Most water companies are offering support to customers who are having problems paying their water bills.

Options may include moving to a capped tariff where your payments won’t exceed a certain amount, taking a break from payments until you’re able to get back on track, or your provider might agree to lower your bills temporarily.

What you’ll be offered will depend on your individual situation, so get in touch with your supplier to see what help they can provide you with.

Council tax

If you don’t think you’ll be able to afford to pay your council tax because you’re now on a lower income or claiming benefits, you might be eligible for a council tax reduction which could reduce your bill by up to 100%. What you get will depend on where you live, your circumstances, your household income and whether you have children or other dependents living with you. You can apply for a council tax reduction here.

If you don’t qualify for a reduction, you may still be able to ask your council whether you might be able to take a break from payments for a month or two. The support available varies from council to council so its worth contacting your local council to find out what help they can provide – you can find their contact details here.

Seek professional help if you’re struggling

As well as asking for support on your regular bills,it’s a good idea to look at other ways you might be able to reduce your outgoings. Hopefully our article 10 ways to cut costs might have some  useful ideas.

If you’re finding it impossible to manage your finances during this difficult time and are worried about your debts spiralling out of control, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible. Charities StepChange, National Debtline and the Debt Advice Foundation all offer free debt advice and may be able to help you arrive at a manageable repayment plan with your creditors. The sooner you act, the better your chances of finding a workable solution so don’t be ashamed about speaking to someone during these times of crisis.

We hope you found these suggestions helpful. Do you have any other tips to share? We’d love to hear from you  at [email protected] or on the Rest Less Community forum.

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