Covid-19 has brought financial hardship for many. So what help is available?
For those looking at the winter and worrying about how they are going to get through it with lockdown restrictions, possible temporary school closures and other uncertainty, here are some suggestions of where to go for financial help if you cannot be furloughed or access the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.
If your earnings fall below a certain level due to redundancy, a reduction in hours or being furloughed and you or your partner have savings of less than £16,000 in savings, you receive tax credits, are under the state pension age and over 18 you should be able to claim Universal Credit. If you already receive tax credits, be sure to research what the impact could be if you switch to UC as, in some cases, those switching to UC will lose money. UC brings together other benefits, including housing benefit and tax credits.
In a week where the campaign for the Government to provide free school meals over the holidays has ratcheted up, there has been attention on Universal Credit levels and whether they are enough for families to get by. The Government has increased the level of Universal Credit and working tax credit by 20 pounds a week during the pandemic, but many argue that that is still not enough to cover basic necessities like food and heating or to make up for a decade of different benefits cuts, including benefits caps.
If you are forced to use unpaid parental leave, you may be able to claim Universal Credit and a council tax reduction if your household earnings are below a certain level. You may also be able to claim extra money through tax credits and housing benefit, but usually only if you have already been claiming them.
You can use the Government’s benefits calculator to understand how different scenarios will affect your payment. If you have previously received Universal Credit within the last six months, you can restart your old claim by signing in to your Universal Credit account. You need to report any changes in your circumstances. If you received your last payment more than six months ago, you will need to make a new claim for Universal Credit.
If you are self employed and eligible for the Government’s Self Employment Income Support Scheme you may also qualify for UC.
It takes around five weeks from making the claim to get your first payment. Although you can apply for an advance of one week’s UC payment, you will have to pay this back over the next months. To qualify for UC you need to be actively looking for a job and to meet your claimant commitment, which will be tailored to your particular circumstances. For instance, it may take into account any caring responsibilities or shielding issues during Covid. If you don’t meet the commitment, you could be sanctioned [which means you lose benefits for a set period].
If you have paid enough National Insurance contributions and you are ill or have a health condition or disability that limits your ability to work you may also be able to apply for the New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
In England, if you are told to isolate due to being in contact with someone who tests positive and you are on a low income, you may be able to claim 500 pounds for the two-week period. You can claim again if you have to isolate more than once.If you develop symptoms of Covid-19 you can claim Statutory Sick Pay which you can get in conjunction with the 500 pounds. From Scotland, information is available here; for Northern Ireland here; and for Wales here.
If you are struggling to feed your family, you can find out about referrals to your nearest food bank via your local authority or Citizens Advice. The Trussell Trust operates a national network of food banks and has a postcode checker on its site.
The Government has announced an extension to the mortgage holiday scheme. Generation Rent says the lockdown will affect more than 340,000 private renters, adding to the numbers of people who cannot cover their rent because of what it claims are inadequate housing benefit levels. It is calling on the Government to raise Local Housing Allowance to cover the median rent [the cap on housing benefit only covers rent on the cheapest 30% of private rented homes in a local area] so that families do not get into debt and to set up a fund to clear the debts of renters who have already got into serious arrears by compensating landlords up to 80% of the rent owed
For information on childcare during Covid-19, click here.