The government has announced several measures to provide financial support to those struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus crisis, but it’s not always easy to know who qualifies or how to claim.
Lots of people have seen their incomes plummet as their work has dried up, are facing redundancy, or are unable to work because they are self-isolating or unwell. These can be really worrying times, so it’s vital to get all the support you possibly can.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the benefits and financial help that you might be eligible for during these difficult times.
Government help if you’re employed
Support if you’re put on furlough due to business closures
The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was set up to try and avoid companies having to make people redundant whilst they themselves are forced to close for business. Under the scheme, businesses can choose to put some employees on ‘furlough’ (which essentially means not asking them to work for a set period of time), instead of making them redundant. So, for example, this might apply if you work in a restaurant or pub that has had to close, but your employer wants to keep you on until it reopens.
For any employees put on furlough, the Government pays 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 a month. This is paid through normal payroll, with the Government reimbursing employers afterwards.
The scheme was previously due to run until June 30, but has now been extended until the end of October. Your employer can ask you to return to work part-time from 1 July if they want to, and they will have to pay you for the hours you work. HMRC is due to announce further details on how people can return to work part-time whilst remaining furloughed on 12 June. If you stay fully furloughed, the Government will continue to pay 80% of your salary until the end of July. From August, employers will need to start contributing to the cost of the scheme, starting with National Insurance and pension contributions. From September, the Government will cover 70% of furloughed employees’ salaries, with employers expected to make up the remaining 10% in addition to the NI and pension contributions, and from October, they’ll be expected to pay 20%, with the Government contributing 60%. This creates some uncertainty as to whether employers will be willing or able to fund their share of the costs from August.
When the scheme was first introduced, it only applied to those who were on their employer’s payroll by February 28. This has now been extended to include people who were on their company’s payroll on March 19.
The latest date you can be placed on furlough is June 10. If your employer hasn’t furloughed you by this date, you won’t be able to be furloughed in future.
Whilst we sincerely hope that the job retention scheme will reduce the number of redundancies made in the UK (and it will be of huge value to you if you are one of those placed on furlough instead of being made redundant) it is likely to be a case by case situation as to whether you can benefit from this scheme, and will depend on your employer and their own set of circumstances.
You can find out more about help for businesses and their employees here.
If you’re a limited company director, it is still possible to furlough yourself, but you can only do this for income you receive under Pay As You Earn (HMRC’s system to collect income tax and National Insurance from employment) and not income you receive from dividends. Whilst you will still be able to comply with your minimum statutory requirements as a director during furlough, you won’t be able to do any work for your company.
Financial support if you’re sick, self-isolating or shielding
If you’re unable to work because you’ve got the coronavirus or have to self-isolate, you’ll usually be entitled to the same amount of sick pay and leave from your employer that you’d get if you were off work with any other type of illness.
Employers can either offer statutory sick pay, which is the minimum they must pay you by law if you can’t work because you’re unwell, or some may provide their own more generous rates of sick pay. If you have coronavirus or have to self-isolate, you’ll therefore be entitled to either statutory sick pay or your usual sick pay.
To be eligible for statutory sick pay, which in the 2020/21 tax year is £95.85 a week, you must be employed rather than self-employed and earn at least £118 a week before tax. In order to claim it, you’ll need to let your employer know that you’re unwell or self-isolating within seven days, or earlier if your contract states a shorter deadline. You only need a sick note if you’re off work for more than seven days.
Usually statutory sick pay is only payable from day four of your illness, but the Government has confirmed employees affected by coronavirus can now claim it from day one. This measure applies retrospectively from March 13.
If you are self-isolating, you can ‘self-certify’ for the first 7 days off work, which means you’ll have to let your employer know as soon as possible, but you won’t have to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111. If you’re self-isolating due to coronavirus for more than 7 days, you can get an online self-isolation note either from the NHS website or the NHS mobile phone app.
If you’re shielding because you’ve received a letter warning you are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus, your employer may allow you to work from home if you’re able to, or they can furlough you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. If your employer decides not to furlough you, and you can’t perform your job from home, you’ll be eligible for statutory sick pay, as you’ll be incapable of working during the shielding period.
For more information you can visit ACAS to find out the latest advice for both employees and employers. ACAS stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, an independent body that works to improve workplace relationships between employees and employers.
Financial support if you have been made redundant or have lost your source of income
Being made redundant can be a hugely unsettling time. One thing you can do to help feel more in control of what’s happening is to read up on your rights and understand the process itself. In case it’s helpful, we’ve pulled together a comprehensive guide to redundancy.
If you have been made redundant or lost your income, you may be eligible to claim Universal Credit, which is a benefit paid to people who are unable to work, or who are on low incomes and need a bit extra to make ends meet.
The amount you’re entitled to is means-tested and will depend on your individual circumstances. You won’t usually be eligible for Universal Credit if you have £16,000 or more in savings.
The maximum monthly amount you can claim if you’re single and aged 25 or over is £408.89 a month, or £594.04 a month if you’re in a couple and both aged 25 or over. Find out how to claim Universal Credit here.
If coronavirus stops you from going to a job centre to claim Universal Credit, you can complete your claim and get an advance payment online. The job centre might want to talk to you by phone but you should not have to go in person. People who need to claim Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a sick note.
Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
You may be able to submit a claim for Employment and Support Allowance if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed. It’s there to provide you with financial help if you’ve got a health condition or disability that affects how much you’re able to work.
You can’t get Employment and Support Allowance if you’re also claiming either statutory sick pay, statutory maternity pay or job seeker’s allowance, but you can get it at the same time as claiming Universal Credit. Bear in mind, however, that it could reduce the amount you get from Universal Credit.
You can get up to £74 a week if you’re entitled to Employment and Support Allowance and you’ll be paid every two weeks into your bank or building society account.
To qualify for Employment and Support Allowance, you’ll either need to have worked as an employee or have been self-employed and you must have paid enough National Insurance contributions in the last two to three years.
People who need to claim Employment and Support Allowance because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a sick note.
You’ll usually have to have been unable to work for seven days to be paid if you’re claiming this benefit for the first time, but if you’re suffering from coronavirus or have to self-isolate it will be payable from day one.
If you’re already claiming benefits
Please don’t worry about your benefits being stopped if you can’t get to the job centre for your regular appointments. Anyone receiving benefits does NOT have to attend job centre appointments until at least June 19.
If you have to stay at home due to coronavirus, your compulsory work search and work availability requirements will be removed during this period. Similarly, if you’re unable to attend a reassessment for any of the benefits you receive, you’ll continue to receive these benefits until it’s possible to rearrange the reassessment.
Financial support if you’re self-employed and you've lost work due to coronavirus
The Chancellor has unveiled a range of measures to help the self-employed, although those eligible for help had to wait until June to benefit.
If you’re self-employed and have filed a tax return for the 2018/19, you may be eligible for financial support from the government if your income has fallen or stopped due to coronavirus.
The scheme pays 80% of average monthly profits as a taxable grant, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. When working out how much you’re entitled to, HMRC will look at your average monthly earnings over the past three tax years. If you haven’t filed tax returns for the last three years, the amount you receive will be based on the returns you have filed, even if you’ve only filed one.
Those who have only recently become self-employed won’t be covered by the scheme, as HMRC won’t have any records of their earnings yet. You also won’t be covered if you don’t earn enough to file a self-assessment tax return.
Self-employed people with average profits over £50,000 also won’t be able to claim financial support under the new scheme.
If you’re eligible for the scheme, the first tranche of money is paid in a single instalment covering March, April, and May. You have until 13 July to make a claim and payments should be made into your bank account within six days of submitting your claim.
The scheme has now been extended, so that those who qualify will be able to make a second claim for the months of June, July and August. Payments for these months will be capped at £2,190 per month, or £6,570 in total. You’ll be able to apply for the second grant from August.
As these payments are grants rather than loans, they do not have to be repaid. However, the money is taxable, so you will have to include it as income on your tax return and pay tax on it.
Over the long term, the Chancellor hinted that the 9% National Insurance Contributions (NICs) paid by the self-employed may in future rise to the same level as the 12% NICs paid by those who are employed. This is based on the fact that as they will essentially receive the same financial support as employees put on furlough during the current crisis, then they should contribute equally after the crisis resolves itself.
Find out more about the measures announced for the self-employed in our article ‘The Self-employment Income Support scheme explained’ or learn about the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme on the Gov.uk website here.
Universal Credit for the self-employed
If you’ve been self-employed for more than a year, there is normally a ‘minimum income floor’ which is used to calculate how much Universal Credit you may be able to get on top of your earnings.
The Chancellor has confirmed that this minimum income floor has been suspended which should help more low earning, self-employed people affected by coronavirus access Universal Credit. He has also raised the payments for Universal Credit so that the self-employed can claim it at the same rate as Statutory Sick Pay (£94.25 a week).
Importantly the Government has also confirmed that money saved by the self-employed towards tax bills won’t be counted as savings and so won’t affect the amount of Universal Credit they can claim.
Delayed payment of tax
Most self-employed people who pay tax via the self-assessment system must make two tax payments each year to pay their annual tax bills, one by January 31 and one by July 31. These are known as ‘payments on account’.
This year, however, in order to provide people with a bit more financial breathing space, the Chancellor has announced that the July payment will be deferred, so that you’ll have until January 31 to pay your second payment on account.
Bounce Back' loans and Business Interruption loans
Depending on your individual circumstances, if you run your own business you may be able to get a government-backed ‘Bounce Back’ loan for up to £50,000. You can apply for a loan between £2,000 and up to 25% of your turnover if your business is based in the UK, was established before 1 March 2020 and has been adversely affected by coronavirus.
This must be repaid, but you don’t have to pay anything back in the first year, and no interest is payable either. After the first year ends, interest is charged at 2.5% annually. You can find out more about bounce back loans and how to apply here.
If you need to borrow more than £50,000, an alternative option may be a Business Interruption loan, which helps small and medium-sized businesses access loans and other types of finance up to £5m. To qualify, you’ll need to show that your business has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus. The government guarantees 80% of loans and also pays interest and fees for the first 12 months. Find out more about the Business Interruption Loan scheme and how to apply here.
Other financial support available
Additional measures have also been announced by the Government to help those who have lost their jobs or some of their income in the way of additional benefits and mortgage holidays. We outline these below.
Support with mortgage or rent payments
You may be able to get a mortgage payment holiday for up to three months from your lender if you think you’re going to struggle to make your monthly repayments. Contact them as soon as possible to discuss the options that might be available to you. Originally mortgage payment holidays were only available for up to three months until the end of June, but they have now been extended by a further three months. Homeowners who are coming to the end of their payment holidays will be offered the option to extend their break, or to start making reduced payments if they’re able to. If you’re finding it difficult to cover your mortgage costs and haven’t yet taken a payment holiday, you now have until 31 October to request one.
Find out more about how mortgage payment holidays work in our article Everything you need to know about taking a mortgage payment holiday or check out our handy mortgage payment calculator here.
If you’re renting but think you won’t be able to pay your rent due to the coronavirus, it’s also possible for your landlord to request a mortgage payment holiday. Landlords aren’t allowed to start eviction proceedings until 31 October to provide some protection for tenants during this time.
Loan and credit card payment holidays
If you have a credit card or loan, you should be able to ask your lender for a three month payment holiday.
You’ll need to get in touch with your lender, usually by phone, although some will allow you to ask for a payment holiday online. Bear in mind that lenders are dealing with large numbers of enquiries, so you may need to be patient.
If you have an authorised overdraft with your bank or building society, you should qualify for a £500 interest-free overdraft. Whilst some providers offer this automatically, in certain cases you must request it, so check with your bank before you go overdrawn.
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.
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 to your home. Get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible so that they can send one out to you.
It also might be worth checking in with your energy provider to see if you have a credit balance built up on your account. If you do, you can ask them to refund it into your bank account which could be particularly helpful during these difficult times.
You may also want to review your energy tariff to see if you can make savings by switching. According to comparison site Energyhelpline.com, switching saves most households between £200 and £300 a year, yet there are still millions that stick with the same provider year after year. Find out more in our article Four reasons you should switch energy supplier now or go straight to comparing energy deals.
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, or taking a payment holiday so that you can take 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 and what help they can provide you with.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to afford to pay your council tax because you’re now on a low 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 your children live with you. You can apply for a council tax reduction here.
If you don’t qualify for a reduction, it’s worth asking your council whether you might be able to take a break from payments for a month or two. Some councils have promised that they won’t penalise people if they don’t pay on time during this period. Contact your local council to find out what help they can provide – you can find their contact details here.
Where to go for more information
There are several charities and organisations which can advise you about any benefits you might be entitled to and can help you submit a claim.
These include Turn2us, which can assess your eligibility for benefits through its Turn2us benefits calculator or by phone on 0808 802 2000. The site Entitledto.co.uk also has a free benefits calculator which you can use to see what you qualify for.
Alternatively, you can get help from Citizens Advice. You can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone as we battle not only a health crisis, but also increasingly an economic one. To try and help, we have pulled together a range of guides to support our members, from ideas to boost your income and five ways to raise emergency cash through to popular side hustles, and ways to cut costs and get help with your bills.
Are you worried about whether you’ll have enough financial support, or have you recently made a benefits claim for the first time? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can get in touch via [email protected] or leave a comment below. Stay safe and look after yourselves.