The new year has begun with a new lockdown and fresh school closures across the UK as coronavirus cases soar again.
But with many already struggling financially as a result of the past year’s problems, Martin Lewis has offered an essential guide to the help available.
“Life right now has a chilling, and depressing, sense of deja vu,” Martin wrote in the weekly MoneySavingExpert.com newsletter.
“Most of the UK is again in a form of lockdown, but this time it’s darker and colder.
“Physical and mental health is the prime concern, but tighter restrictions have a significant impact on livelihoods, income and finances too.”
But there’s a small upside to the repeated entries and exists from lockdown – even if we preferred not to need it.
“This time around at least, support mechanisms are already up and running,” Martin said.
So, to help people through the new period of enforced closures, furloughs, school suspensions and being stuck at home he’s produced a guide to the help there.
“Even if they don’t affect you, do take a few minutes to go through them, so you can spread word,” Martin wrote.
Here are his 16 need to knows:
Employees can be furloughed to look after their children – If you can’t work from home or go to work due to childcare responsibilities, it is legal (and desirable), though not compulsory, for employers to furlough you.
If you can’t be furloughed, you’ve the right to take time off to look after a dependant, but you don’t have a right to be paid for this time. PS: Schools can apply for laptops and wireless internet routers for children not online.
To be furloughed you need to have been on your employer’s payroll by 30 October – this applies to zero-hours and agency workers too. Furlough is currently set to last until 30 April. It covers 80% of an employee’s salary, up to £2,500a month. Most employers can furlough staff but it’s at their discretion – you can’t force them.
Furlough is flexible – it can be for as little as an hour a week If work has reduced but not totally dried up, or you can do some work while caring for your child, you can be furloughed part-time, with hours changing weekly.
Self-employed due to suffer a significant profit reduction (including due to parental responsibilities) may get up to £7,500 The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant 3 can be applied for until 29 January. The eligibility criteria are, briefly, that you must have filed a tax return for 2018/19, have an average trading profit of less than £50,000 a year, and 50%+ of your income must be from self-employment.
Required to work from home, even for one day, since 6 Apr? Claimed a year’s tax relief The rebate is worth £60 or £125 and HMRC said last week about 1.4million had claimed. It’s usually a doddle to do.
Payment holidays for mortgages, cards, loans, car finance etc available until 31 March – People struggling financially due to Covid-19 who haven’t had a payment holiday can near-automatically get one for 3 months, then another after 3 months. Those who have already had one can do it for up to a total 6 months.
If you’ve already had 6mths of payment holidays, you’ll be put on to “tailored support” – meaning it’s up to providers to try to find a way to help you.
Debt help available includes:
– Until 31 January: £500 0% overdrafts (only a few banks incl Lloyds, Halifax, Santander are doing this, as the regulator no longer requires it)
– Until 31 March: Mortgage payment holidays (home repossessions are currently banned until 31 January – that may be extended)
– Until 31 March: Credit & store cards, personal loans & catalogue debt
– Until 31 March: Car finance (PCP, lease, HP), pawnbroking, buy-now-pay-later & rent to own, payday loans (interest & payment hols)
– Until 20 April: Individual voluntary arrangements
Interest rate cut more likely – consider locking in fixed savings The odds of a UK interest rate cut this year at 50%, and for it to stay as now at 50%. While top fixed-rate savings are low too, at least the rate is locked in so once you get it, it can’t drop further. It’s worth considering for money you don’t need access to but can’t risk by investing.
Universal credit is the catch-all help – don’t dismiss it Universal credit is a benefit available to many employed, self-employed and unemployed people or those on low incomes, whether furloughed, getting SEISS or not.
Many dismiss it, but while it’s not perfect it may help.
Most uni students should ‘stay where you are’ – what does this mean for accommodation and tuition fees? With a few exceptions, such as medical, vet and teaching courses, most UK students – even some on practical courses – are being advised against physically returning to university for now.
There is no automatic refund entitlement for accommodation costs, though some universities are offering rent refunds or discounts. With private renting it’s even more difficult.
As for tuition fees, the Government says the fact teaching is online does not mean you’re due a refund, as long as the quality is there.
Renters who need help, speak to your landlord – Landlords and tenants may be financially hurting due to the pandemic, so forbearance, tolerance and meeting in the middle is best for both. Tenants don’t have a right to a rental holiday as mortgage holders, but some landlords might be able to claim help if they do.
Evictions in Eng/Wales are currently banned until Monday – The government has said it’s looking into extending this, but no formal word so far.
No news for those excluded, but I’m hopeful for SEISS 4 – Up to 2.9million people have been excluded from furlough or SEISS, including PAYE freelancers, ltd company directors, new-starter self-employed and more – personally, as I told the Treasury Committee, I believe this is a short-sighted mistake.
There’s no word so far on if they will get any help outside universal credit (if applicable), but do think SEISS grant 4 may now be tweaked to include more people.
Don’t miss the 31 January self-assessment deadline – incl for making past delayed payments – If you’ve been asked to do a self-assessment form for the 2019/20 tax year (normally self-employed/higher incomes/complex affairs) then the deadline as normal is 31 January online.
Bounce back loans can be used to replace lost income for the self-employed – These loans allow small business owners to borrow up to £50,000, interest and repayment-free for the first 12months. For those who can’t get other support, in some circumstances they can be used to replace lost personal income.
Holidays are now banned for those across much of the UK – can you get a refund? Given for England/Scotland/Wales (not NI) leisure travel is illegal, the competition watchdog says you should usually be due a full refund, but in practice it can be tricky to enforce in some cases.
You can still move home, get an MoT and go to the dentist, but driving tests are cancelled – In all UK nations you can still go to the dentist, get an MoT done, view a property and move home. Driving tests are suspended though (except motorcycle tests in NI), but you will get a refund.
New business grants (England) for retail, leisure, hospitality and others – It has just been announced that there’s to be: a) one-off top-up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses up to £9,000 per property, and b) a £594million discretionary fund for other businesses.