Life

How To Access Financial Support If You’re Not Sure You Qualify For The UK Govt's Help

Bustle

With the fear of our loved ones or ourselves becoming ill, isolating in homes and environments that may not be conducive to physical or mental wellbeing, distressing news stories, and dire predictions breaking every few minutes, the coronavirus crisis is worrying enough as it is. However, alongside health concerns, coronavirus is taking a toll on many people's finances. Almost overnight, entire industries were shut down with many losing their jobs or taking significant pay cuts. While measures have been announced by the government to help manage the pandemic's impact on the economy, people are still struggling financially.

Establishing what help is available isn't the easiest task, especially if the government's financial safety net hasn't been extended to those in your circumstances. To help, I've rounded up some of the options available to those whose circumstances might be trickier than the average person's. Whether you're self-employed and need help before the government assistance arrives, are on a zero-hours contract and can't work due to lockdown, or even if you've been furloughed or made redundant and are worried about the impact it could have on your career or finances, help is out there.

Read on to find out what you can find help for your professional or financial situation.

I'm On A Zero-Hours Contract & Unable To Work Due To Social Distancing Measures

If you’re on a zero-hours contract and paid via PAYE, you are eligible for the government’s job-retention scheme. Those who are unable to work due to social distancing or the UK-wide lockdown can ask to be furloughed by their employer. In a video on the topic Martin Lewis advised: "If you are on a zero hours contact and you are on PAYE with your employer, then in most cases you are eligible for the Employee Furlough Scheme. That’s where the state will give your employer 80% of your salary a month up to £2,500 if you are unable to work. Obviously if you are able to work, if you are a key worker such as a supermarket worker, then you can keep working."

He continues: "But if you can’t work if you’re self isolating, then your employer can put you on furlough. The hope is that most employers will pay 100% of the salary but they don’t have to, they only have to pay 80% which is what I suspect most zero hour workers will get."

He also explained that the amount paid out to those with variable incomes would be based on whichever amount was higher: this month’s pay or the same month last year. And if you’ve worked for an employer for less than a year, the amount will be based on the average earned monthly during your time with them.

I’m Self-Employed But Can’t Wait For/Don’t Have Access To Government Support

What help is available?

After criticism that the government was overlooking self-employed people in its support packages, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that they would provide grants to those who derive most of their income from self-employment. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will cover up to 80% of self-employed people's profits, in line with provisions for full-time employees. Those who are eligible will be contacted by the government and allocated a slot in which they can apply for support. The amount given will be based on three-years worth of tax returns, however, those who have not been freelancers for three years will be given an average of their typical earnings.

Who is eligible?

As long as you have filed a tax return for the April 2018-19 tax year, derive more than 50% of your income from self-employment, and don't earn over £50,000 a year, you're eligible for the scheme. But as Matt Dowling, founder of The Freelancer Club explains, the current conditions leave a large amount of freelancers and self-employed people without support. He says: “Up to 2 million people are excluded from SEISS entirely. Its clauses are endlessly unforgiving. Amongst those ineligible are those who became self-employed too recently or took maternity leave; those who earn too little; those who earn too much, despite being sole breadwinners providing for families; those who invested in their business at the expense of personal profit; and those who maintained part-time employment to ease the transition into self-employment."

The Freelancer Club is urging the government to extend its support. Dowling explains: "On top of this, many [freelancers] are also ineligible for Universal Credit or Small Business Grants. These are not cracks, but craters, and freelancers are falling through them fast. The government must address our plea for support to be extended. The alternative will risk ruin for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable, hard working people."

Those who had missed the Jan. 31 2020 deadline to file their tax return for 2018-19 were given an extension until April 23 to do so. If you didn't filed your tax return by then, you won't be eligible for support. If you are unsure whether or not you're eligible, HMRC has created a tool you can use to check.

When will the money be paid?

Despite being announced in March, the government grants aren't actually going to be paid into bank accounts until late May or June. While a late payment is far from an unfamiliar experience for many freelancers, it doesn’t make it any more manageable, especially during a time when many people’s income sources are drying up or vanishing entirely.

As Dowling explains: “Freelancers up and down the country have had their incomes totally decimated by the crisis. There is no telling when work will resume and the pressure is only building. The reality of freelancing often means living from pay cheque to pay cheque, chasing unpaid invoices from months back. It’s delusional to think that these people — many London renters — are in any position to hold out until June, when support will finally be available for SEISS applications. Bills will not wait for HMRC to make a start on processing paperwork. Accessing financial aid is a question of putting food on the table for freelancers and their families right now. The government must expedite support."

What if I can’t wait till June?

One option for freelancers is to sign up for Universal Credit, but wait times are lengthy due to the significant increase in demand and, as Dowling explained, some freelancers won't be eligible for UC. These aren’t the only issues, either. Although Chancellor Sunak announced an increase to UC, the most that successful claimants can hope to receive is £410 a month. This is still well below the average amount a self-employed person earns in a month (£1,025), per the Trades Union Congress. The amount of UC received is also determined by age, which makes the potential amount young people will receive even lower.

If you wish to sign up for UC, you can do so by visiting the website. If you're not eligible for UC, the government has launched a tool that small businesses can use find out what support is available to them. Those based in Scotland have access to a government hardship fund for new freelancers who aren't eligible for SEISS.

Are there any non-government options?

One option is to get in touch with the union for your industry. Many will offer hardship funds, although these are often only accessible to members, so you may have to pay a joining and/or membership fee. You can find your industry’s union here.

There are also a number of organisations offering grants to freelancers and the self-employed to help support them during this time. For example, the Arts Council is offering grants for those working in cultural industries. For further information on grants for businesses and individuals affected by coronavirus visit Grants Online.

I’m A New Starter & The Job Retention Scheme Doesn’t Apply To Me

One serious loophole in the government’s measures concerns people who recently left their old job to start a new one. Initially, if you began your job after Feb. 28 2020, you weren’t eligible to receive pay through the government’s job retention scheme. However, the cut-off has now been extended till March 19, which is helpful for some but not for others. It also doesn’t cover those who were about to start work in seasonal industries like holiday camps or airports. Per the Guardian, there is growing pressure on the government to extend its measures to include more recent new-starters and those who were due to begin seasonal work.

What help is available?

Those who are unable to be furloughed by their new company are being advised to ask their old company if they can be re-hired and put on furlough there instead. A government spokesperson told the Guardian, “They may return to their old employer, but decisions around whether to offer to furlough someone are down to the individual company.” However, it’s up to the company to decide whether they wish to do this and it’s obviously not an option for everyone. Those who cannot be furloughed by either their new or old company are being advised to apply for Universal Credit. There are also grants available to workers in certain industries, Grants Online has compiled a list of COVID-19 funds and grants that are currently accepting applications.

I've Been Made Redundant Or Have Been Furloughed & Don't Want My Career To Stall

If you've been furloughed

Being furloughed can seem like one of the more favourable outcomes and, although it's certainly far better than losing your job or freelance income, it has its own set of challenges. Some people may have taken a pay cut but are unable to take on any other work to cover the shortfall, and even those with full pay may find filling their days a struggle. But Jo Cresswell, Careers Expert at Glassdoor, has plenty of ideas for fulfilling ways to spend your time which can also help keep your career on track.

She explains: “If you’re one of the many workers who have recently found themselves furloughed, make sure you keep yourself occupied and use the time wisely. While you’re not allowed to work for your employer when furloughed, you are allowed to volunteer. With volunteers needed across all front-line industries right now – think NHS, charities, pharmacies, retail this could be a fulfilling way to spend your time; keeping yourself mentally engaged while supporting critical industries.

There are some people who are furloughed who will be able to take on a new role, depending on their contract. If you're interested in taking on a temporary job while on furlough Bustle has all the information you need to find out if you can and how to do it.

If you've been made redundant

The prospect of job hunting is daunting at any time, let alone during a global crisis and a period of significant financial uncertainty, but Cresswell has six simple steps which should help get you started.

1. Refresh your CV — "Make sure your CV is up to date and highlight soft and transferable skills if you’re applying to a different role or industry."

2. Utilise your network — "Email past colleagues and tap up connections on LinkedIn to let them know your situation and see if they are able to make any recommendations for you."

3. Upskill — "Take the opportunity from having more free time to learn new skills or strengthen existing ones — for example through online courses — to strengthen your position when applying for a new role."

4. Take a temporary job — "If no relevant roles are out there for you right now, consider taking on a temporary role, but one which offers potential to acquire new, complementary skills. Alternatively, a role which has the potential to turn into a permanent job."

5. Be opportunistic — "Unless a company has explicitly said it has implemented a hiring freeze, don’t be afraid of proactively putting yourself forward for current or future opportunities. Be clear in your cover letter what you have to offer, why now is a good time to consider you for a role and what your availability is."

6. Be on the ball — "Create job alerts on Glassdoor in order to get relevant jobs emailed to you as soon as they’re posted. That way you’ll be first in line to apply and get your CV in front of the hiring manager."

I Want To Make Sure I'm Looking After My Finances During Lockdown

There are few people who will be feeling financially better off during lockdown, and Rachel Blackamore NatWest’s Managing Director of Personal Banking in London and the South East explains that lots of the customers she speaks to "are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19."

If you're feeling worried, then take comfort that you're not alone: "It’s an uncertain and worrying time for many people," says Blackamore. "One of the most common sentiments amongst our customers, as well as across the country, is how we manage anxiety about our finances when things are changing so rapidly."

For those who are in a particularly precarious position thanks to the coronavirus crisis in the UK, Blackamore advises that there may be more help available than you'd think. She says: "I’d advise those who are concerned to look at how their bank can best support them, as there are a range of forbearance measures in place across all major banks. The best place to start is their website as most banks now have online forms to request support such as loan repayment holidays."

She adds: "At NatWest we are offering financial support for customers who have experienced unexpected changes in personal circumstances and need help managing short term finances and cash flow restrictions."

For those who are hoping to look after their money as much as possible during this time, Blackamore suggests five things you can do to set yourself in good stead:

1. Check your accounts regularly — "Make sure you are set up on online and/or mobile banking. Keep an eye on your accounts. If there is any unusual activity contact your bank immediately. You will also find it easy to manage your money safely and securely in this way."

2. Get a payment holiday — "Most banks are offering payment holidays on mortgages for up to three months. If you think this could help, it’s worth checking your bank’s website before you call, as many lenders have an option to submit your details for a payment break online. Similarly, interest free overdrafts of up to £500 are on offer, again via online applications. Many lenders are also automatically pausing fees and charges on late payments for the next few months – check online before you call, as you might already be benefitting."

3. Review your spending and budget — "Use the time spent indoors to review your direct debits and recurring payments to see if there are any services that you haven’t been using for a while or forgotten about and cancel them. Once you’ve established your baseline, it’s important to create a budget. This means a longer-term look at any commitments that you might have coming up over the next few months. It’s also important to treat it as a living document – a budget only works if it feels realistic to your circumstances, which can change, particularly in the current climate. Don’t be too hard on yourself at the moment, if you need to amend your budget, you can — just do what feels right. There are plenty of online resources such as budget calculators and tools to get you started."

4. Plan ahead — "It seems a long way off at the moment but the UK will eventually come out of lockdown and it is important to plan ahead. If you are spending less than normal while social distancing it could be a good time to think about opening a savings account and setting savings goals. People who set a savings goal are found to save double compared to those who don’t set a goal."

5. Ask the experts — "Many banks will offer services to customers which can help identify opportunities to better manage your finances, such as NatWest’s free Financial Health Check service. Services such as pre-booked video banking sessions can also help you chat through your options from home at a time that’s convenient for you."

It's clear that the financial impact of coronavirus isn't going away any time soon. If you need further help and support, the Citizen's Advice Bureau can offer guidance for a variety of different professional and financial situations.