Virus

COVID-19 (coronavirus) and your finances

Financial advice and guidance for members affected by COVID-19

If your finances have been affected as a result of the COVID-19 situation, this page provides guidance on the entitlements and support that may be available to you.

legislation.gov.uk

New legislation

The Social Security (Coronavirus) (Further Measures) Regulations 2020 relates to a number of the changes to welfare benefit entitlement.
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Applying for Universal Credit (UC)

Due to a large surge in applicants claiming Universal Credit, the DWP is experiencing lengthy delays and technical difficulties with both telephone and online systems. If you cannot get through, do keep trying, as the DWP is in the process of deploying more resources and staff to deal with the increase in demand. Where possible, you are advised to Apply For Universal Credit online.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you're off sick due to COVID-19 and/or have to self isolate in line with government guidelines check your contract to see if you are entitled to contractual sick pay.

If you are not entitled to contractual sick pay, you should be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as long as you earn an average of at least £120 per week. You can check your eligibility for SSP on the gov.uk website.

If eligible, you will receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day that you cannot attend work. 

Universal Credit

If you think Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will not be enough to support you, you can also put a claim in for Universal Credit for a top-up benefit or to help pay rent.

The government announced it will be making temporary arrangements for people affected by COVID-19 who are already claiming benefits or those needing to make a new claim for benefits.

For more information, see the Employment and benefits support section on the government's Understanding Universal Credit website.

Furlough and the Job Retention Scheme

If your employer is unable to operate or has no work for you to do because of COVID-19, your employer could agree to keep you on the payroll instead of laying you off. You’d get 80% of your regular wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS), up to a monthly cap of £2,500.

If you were made redundant or stopped working for your employer after 28 February 2020, your employer could agree to re-employ you and place you on furlough, as long as you were on their PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020. 

For more information about this, see the government's guidance: Check if your employer can use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and the RCN's FAQ guidance under heading 'Furlough: the job retention scheme and eligibility.'

The government recently announced that the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of October.

Shielding: medical suspension or furlough

If you are shielding in line with public health guidance or required to stay home due to an individual in your household shielding, and you cannot work from home, you may be able to ask for medical suspension or furlough. For more information see the RCN's FAQ guidance under heading 'Furlough: the job retention scheme and eligibility.'

Other benefits

For an overview of all benefits you might be entitled to visit the following website: Entitled to where you can do a full online benefits calculation.

Once you have got a clear understanding of what you might be entitled to, you may need to take additional measures to manage a reduced income. There may also be delays in processing new claims for benefits.

Support from the RCN Welfare team

If you want further advice, you can contact the RCN's welfare service.

Self-employed workers and sick pay (ESA)

If you are off sick due to COVID-19 or have to self-isolate in line with government guidelines, but are not entitled to SSP, then you may be able to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

ESA is based on your National Insurance contributions and currently paid at a rate of £74.35 per week. How much you get will depend on what stage your application is at, as well as things like your age and whether you’re able to get back into work.

If you are off sick with COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, and are eligible for ESA, then it will be payable from day one.

For more details, see the gov.uk website: How to claim ESA.

Self-employed workers and Universal Credit

If ESA will be your only income, you may be better off claiming Universal Credit (UC), which can also assist with your rental costs and support for dependants.

For more information, see the Employment and benefits support section on the government's website.

The Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) was introduced to support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a direct cash grant worth 80% of profits, averaged over the past three tax years (up to a maximum of £2500 a month) to those who are eligible.

More information about eligibility and to claim can be found here: COVID-19: Self-employed income support scheme.

Self-employed workers already receiving Universal Credit

If you are self-employed and receiving Universal Credit (UC), and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change took effect on the 13th March 2020 and will last for the duration of the outbreak, to ensure that self-employed UC claimants will receive support.

If you are eligible for 'New Style Employment and Support Allowance' (ESA), it will now be payable from the first day of sickness (rather than the eighth), if you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate.

If you have COVID-19 or need to self-isolate, you can now claim and have access to advance payments without needing to attend a Jobcentre Plus office. You should visit the Government's guidance on Claiming Universal Credit: step by step for more information.

Universal Credit and SEISS funds

If you have been claiming funds via SEISS (Self Employed Income Support Scheme) then you may receive a lump sum payment. If you are claiming Universal Credit, any such lump sum payments will be counted as your earned income and treated in the same way as any wages would be.

With Universal credit, earnings you receive from previous months can affect how much you get in future months. So if you earn more than £2,500 over the amount you can earn before your Universal Credit entitlement is reduced to £0 (i.e. because you received a lump sum) you are said to have ‘surplus earnings.’ This may reduce the amount of Universal Credit you receive, or perhaps mean that you can’t get any Universal Credit payment in subsequent assessment periods. 

Student nurses

If you are a student nurse, see our page: Information on student funding, tax credits and welfare benefits for updates on student funding and maintenance grants, and advice on how paid clinical placements might affect any benefits or entitlements.

Working Tax Credits during the COVID-19 emergency

The government has announced that the basic element of Working Tax Credit (WTC) will increase on top of the planned rise from 6 April 2020.

If you are currently getting Tax Credit, your entitlement may be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information, see the Tax credits and coronavirus page on the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) website for advice.

CPAG also have a Coronavirus and benefits FAQ page.

Impact on Tax Credits if you increase your hours

Some member have expressed concerns that increases in their working hours, and subsequently their net pay, will impact on their future claims for Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

As Tax Credits are means tested, an increase in salary will potentially have an impact on entitlement. Depending on the number of hours worked and an individual family situation. This could mean either an increased or decreased tax credit entitlement.

The Tax Credits Regulations are very clear that if members are already receiving Tax Credits and gain or lose some entitlement due to increased income, and then return to their substantive hours, it does not trigger a new claim, but is seen as a Tax Credit adjustment.

In these circumstances, members will be able to retain their entitlement to Tax credits and not be transferred to the new Universal Credit.

The RCN is clear that no member should be financially adversely affected by their choice to take up extra shifts to support the COVID-19 emergency.

If you are advised to switch to Universal Credit, please do seek advice before doing so.

The RCN Welfare Service is here to provide advice on whether or not this is the right decision for you.

Paid student placements and in the impact on tax credits

If you are a student nurse doing an extended clinical placement to help with the COVID-19 emergency, please see our page: Information on student funding, tax credits and welfare benefits for information about how any benefits and entitlements could be affected.

Universal Credit standard allowance increases

From the 6th April, the government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for one year.

Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.

This means that for a single Universal Credit claimant (aged 25 or over), the standard allowance will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month.

For more information about this, see the Cororavirus and claiming benefits page on the government's Understanding Universal Credit website.

Universal Credit and advance payments during the COVID-19 outbreak

If you start a claim for Universal Credit, you will have to wait at least 5 weeks for your first payment to come through. If you don’t think you’ll have enough money to live on during this time, you can request an 'advance payment' when you apply. The advance payment is a loan, meaning you have to pay it back through your future Universal Credit payments. You do not pay any interest.

If you have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, you will be able to apply for a month’s advance payment upfront, without physically attending a jobcentre or having a Universal Credit interview.

Universal Credit and the suspension of advance payment deductions

Deductions for repaying the advance would usually be made from your very first monthly payment onwards. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, government guidance states deductions can be delayed for up to 3 months if claimants are experiencing an unexpected financial crisis. 

Therefore, if you make a claim for Universal Credit and need to request an advance payment, you may also wish to request a suspension of deductions so that you don’t have to make any repayments for the first 3 months. You should do this via your Universal Credit journal. 

Universal Credit and furlough pay / SEISS funds

If you have been furloughed, or are claiming funds via SEISS (Self Employed Income Support Scheme) then you may receive a lump sum payment. If you are claiming Universal Credit, any such lump sum payments will be counted as your earned income and treated in the same way as any wages would be.

With Universal credit, earnings you receive from previous months can affect how much you get in future months. So if you earn more than £2,500 over the amount you can earn before your Universal Credit entitlement is reduced to £0 (i.e. because you received a lump sum) you are said to have ‘surplus earnings.’ This may reduce the amount of Universal Credit you receive, or perhaps mean that you can’t get any Universal Credit payment in subsequent assessment periods. 

Suspension of benefit overpayments 

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department for Work and Pensions has temporarily paused the recovery of benefit overpayments, for three months. More for information about this, please see the gov.uk press release: Recovery of benefit overpayment suspended.

DWP debt management have also confirmed they are suspending recovery of any new debts at this time.  

What benefits are you entitled to?

For an overview of all benefits you might be entitled to visit the Entitledto website, where you can do a full online benefits calculation.

Once you have got a clear understanding of what you might be entitled to, you may need to take additional measures to manage a reduced income. There may also be delays in processing new claims for benefits.

Some of the steps you can take to reduce your outgoings for this period of reduced income are listed below.

Evictions

In England and Wales, emergency legislation was introduced so that landlords would not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three month period. A further announcement was made in June to say this will be extended until the 23rd August 2020. 

The Scottish Government also brought in new rules to extend the notice period required to be given to tenants before landlords can start legal action to obtain an order for eviction. These new rules will be in place till 30 September 2020 in the first instance.

In Northern Ireland, landlords must give tenants at least 12 weeks’ notice to quit before applying for a court order to secure any eviction.

For advice, support and information about protective measures in your country during the COVID-19 emergency, please see:

Struggling with your rent

If your pay has dropped, you can initially apply for assistance with your rent through Universal Credit. For more details, see the Housing section on the Understanding Universal Credit website.

If you are still struggling, pay what you can, but don’t leave yourself short of money for other essentials.

If you are a local authority tenant, speak to the housing department as soon as possible.

If you are a private tenant, speak to your landlord and explain the situation and can ask for more time to pay or ask to catch up any missed payments by instalments. It is a good idea to pay what you can afford and keep a record of what you offered. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can seek advice from the RCN Welfare Service.

Remember, most landlords will struggle to get new tenants right now, so there's a common interest in keeping tenants in properties. Trying to come to a reasonable mutual arrangement helps both. Landlord Associations have encouraged landlords to show forbearance, so good communication is key.

Struggling with your mortgage

All banks should offer you a holiday from mortgage payments if you are struggling financially, meaning you will be able to defer paying. You will pay slightly more when you start paying again, as the interest missed will be added to your on-going payments, but it is worth considering.

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) has issued guidance on how they expect mortgage lenders and administrators to treat customers during the COVID-19 emergency. See Mortgages and coronavirus: information for consumers for more details.

The availability of a three month mortgage holiday was first announced in March. Since then, the FCA has published new draft guidance for lenders which includes extending the application period for a mortgage holiday until 31 October. This means customers that have not yet had a payment holiday and are experiencing financial difficulty will be able to request one. The current lender ban on repossessions of homes will be continued to the same date.

The RCN Welfare team have had reports that some mortgage companies are trying to persuade members that they should continue with payments, rather than take a three month break. If you have determined that the break is your best option, then you should persist in your request with the lender. If they won’t offer the payment holiday, then ask them for a written explanation and contact us for advice when you have that from them.

Struggling to meet motor finance

If you are struggling to meet your motor finance, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has proposed new guidelines for Motor Finance companies, which includes allowing customers to take a 3 month break.

Check the finance company's website or call them to explore the options that are available to you.

Further details of the proposals can be found on the FCA's website: FCA proposes help for motor finance and high cost credit customers

It might be worth quoting the FCA guidelines when speaking to any motor finance company.

Nursing Charities

Many charities are still accepting applications for grants during the Coronavirus pandemic, although in some cases they might take longer to process.

RCN Lamplight Support Service (funded by the RCN Foundation)

The RCN's Lamplight Support Service provides:

  • advice on benefit entitlements
  • advice on maximising income during a period of reduced income
  • signposting to relevant debt advice services.

Details about how to access the service can be found on the main Lamplight Support Service page.

Members of the nursing community (past and present) who are not currently working on the frontline can apply for support through the RCN Foundation hardship fund. Details about eligibility can be found in the guide to financial assistance.

Cavell Nurses' Trust 

The Cavell Nurses Trust is another charity specifically for Nurses and Healthcare Support Workers. They offer financial support for short term financial emergencies, for example:

  • Nurses, midwives or HCAs facing financial hardship due to: needing to self isolate, being unable to access occupational sick pay or benefits, losing access to overtime, bank shifts, agency shifts or other enhancements, or those who are self employed.
  • Nurses, midwives or HCAs facing financial hardship because their household or partner’s income has been affected due to Coronavirus, e.g. because their partner is self-employed or works in an industry adversely affected by Coronavirus.

For further information and details on how to apply, see their page Apply for a grant.

Turn2us

If you wish to explore other sources of charitable grants, Turn2us has a comprehensive database that you can search.

Fuel and prepayment meters updates

The government has recently agreed new measures with energy companies to ensure that vulnerable customers who may fall into debt will still be supplied with energy whilst in self isolation. For more details, see the government's press release Government agrees measures with energy industry to support vulnerable people through COVID-19

Money Saving Expert has published a table of different energy providers (e.g. British Gas, E.on, Scottish Power, etc.) with their responses to the measures and contact details. Please see What will energy suppliers do to help prepay customers? for more details. If your energy provider is not listed, you should contact them directly for advice.

Childcare costs whilst you're working

You may find that you have additional childcare costs whilst working during the COVID-19 emergency.

If this is the case, and you are already claiming Universal Credit or Child Tax Credit, these additional costs can be included as part of your claim up to the maximum limits depending on your personal circumstances.

If you are not already claiming the childcare element of Universal Credit or Working Tax Credits, you can request this element as part of an on-going claim.

If you have not previously claimed Universal Credit, your additional childcare costs may mean that you now qualify. To see if you qualify please read the Turn 2 Us guide

If your income is too high to qualify for either of these means tested benefits you can check if you qualify for the Tax-Free Childcare scheme. Tax Free Childcare means the government will pay £2 for every £8 you spend on childcare, up to a maximum of £2,000 per year per child (or £4,000 for a child with a disability).

For more information about help with childcare costs you can visit the Turn 2 Us guide

For information about school and childcare provision for key workers please see the government website or your local authority’s website.

If you are still struggling with childcare costs then please see the information on charities listed below.

Post Office cash deliveries for those shielding (England only)

Vulnerable Post Office customers who are unable to go out to access their money may be eligible for next-day cash deliveries, to ensure they can continue to access their pensions and benefits during the COVID-19 emergency.

If you have one of these accounts and you're eligible to use the scheme, you'll be contacted directly by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) (which is running the scheme in partnership with the Post Office) and asked if you need to have cash delivered.

Seek Help

Finally, remember that you do not need to go through this alone.

The RCN Welfare Service can assist you with FCA regulated debt and money advice and specialist benefits advice.

Details of how to contact the service can be found here RCN’s welfare service

Welfare Service

Get expert support and advice on benefits, tax credits, debt, and housing.