Bustle UK has switched up its regular money series How I Made It Work, to better reflect the uncertain financial times caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of women who've achieved financial stability discussing the lessons they've learnt, each piece focuses on a woman who has had her financial situation transformed by the coronavirus outbreak in the UK. They'll share what their new normal looks like and how (if at all) they're making it work.
This time, HIMIW hears from a restaurant accountant who landed her dream job in January, only to have it taken away overnight due to the coronavirus outbreak's impact on the hospitality industry. Now, after being made redundant, she's living off the money she had saved for a house deposit.
General job description: Accountant for a restaurant
What was your working life like before the coronavirus outbreak?
Having worked as an accountant in practice for five years, in January I started my dream job as an industry accountant working for a restaurant. The support office team was about 20 people, and it was great being part of the team. I worked the standard Monday-Friday 9-5:30, but most days we worked some overtime (always expected in finance), and just before the outbreak I was also working some weekends as I sorted out the year end accounts.
How has the coronavirus outbreak changed your working life?
Working in finance I could see the impact the outbreak was having before other parts of the business potentially realised. We received daily sales reports, and it was clear everyday as our sales fell further and further that this was going to have a significant impact on the company.
I was confident, given that the company was part of a successful group, that we would make it through this. However, the Thursday before lockdown over half the office was made redundant with immediate effect. Overnight, like many people in hospitality, I found myself unemployed.
How has the coronavirus outbreak changed your financial situation?
I am fortunate that before the coronavirus outbreak I had just saved enough money to use for a house deposit, and I had been house hunting for several weeks. As such, I was lucky to know that I could still afford rent and afford food (something that I know a lot of people are struggling with). However, what the outbreak has meant is that to survive I am now using my house deposit savings.
When I was made redundant, I was still in my probationary period, and as such I received two weeks' pay in lieu of notice. If I had been made redundant 5 days later I would have been entitled to three months’ notice pay.
My employer refused to rehire me under the furlough scheme, even only to pay the amount that the government would provide.
Has the government made financial support available to people in your industry or situation?
The evening after I was made redundant the government introduced the furlough scheme, which has been hugely beneficial to people working in industries such as hospitality. A lot of my colleagues who were made redundant the same day as me were rehired under the scheme which is amazing.
My employer refused to rehire me under the furlough scheme, even only to pay the amount that the government would provide. They said I was welcome to have my job back after the crisis if the company was still liquid, which is very kind but not hugely helpful for my own financial situation.
Do you feel government measures have been sufficient for people in your industry?
I think that the furlough scheme is a brilliant idea. However, it relies on employers to do the right thing and too many employers will not furlough their staff for fear of repercussions down the line when loopholes in the scheme are ironed out. I think my boss was worried I would be entitled to three months’ notice if they rehired me, even though I told him I would not hold them to this and just wished to be furloughed for the period that support was available.
How are you managing the change in financial circumstances?
When I first got made redundant, I looked at all the options. Having saved a good amount for my house deposit, I am not, quite fairly, eligible for Universal Credit. I am lucky that having these savings means I have not yet reached the position where I can’t pay my rent, though my housemates did offer to cover this if needed.
In the meantime I’m splitting my other expenses between my three credit cards to try to resist dipping into my savings for as long as possible, but I think the reality is that I will have to push back my dream of owning a house until I can be financially secure again.
Because of the huge increase in demand for certain products in the shops at the moment, it can be hard to make changes and find the cheaper alternatives that would normally be readily available. Often as there isn’t the variety there anymore, I’m finding that my grocery bills are actually a lot more expensive than they were before the lockdown started.
What would help you feel more secure financially during the outbreak?
I think the issue for me and others in my position is the interest that we will be charged on the borrowings we need to survive the period of unemployment and lockdown. Credit cards and overdrafts can have high interest rates, and in my current situation I’m not sure how likely I would be to be approved for a new credit card with an interest free period. Banks have now started to offer repayment breaks on credit cards and reduced overdraft charges, which is helpful.
It took one week of poor sales before they made a lot of us redundant with no warning.
How do you feel the outbreak will affect your working life long term?
Long term I am really lucky that I work in finance, and that I had only just moved out of practice. It means that a lot of doors are open for me to explore, and I have been lucky to be offered a new job starting imminently (starting a new job during this time will bring its own new challenges I am sure!)
Do you think your experiences during the outbreak will change your approach to your working life?
The outbreak has really made me remember that some companies will not support their employees when push comes to shove. During the three months I worked for the restaurant, a lot of emphasis was put on how good an employer they were, and how they were improving staff retention and how we were all valued members of the team.
However, it took one week of poor sales before they made a lot of us redundant with no warning. I think this experience has made me tougher, and when looking for a new job I was definitely looking at which companies would be least likely to have financial difficulties during this crisis. It’s also reminded me to always put yourself first in your career decisions.
Do you think your experiences during the outbreak will have an impact on your relationship with money?
It’s made me aware of how quickly financial situations can change. I went from one weekend being out house hunting, to the following weekend being unemployed.
I think it’s made me realise how important income protection insurance will be when I take out a mortgage, and it’s definitely made me realise how important it is to have a "rainy day fund."