In a time when we need to stay strong and support each other, we at Whitcombe HR thought it might be helpful to put some guidance together regarding every day areas of our lives that may be affected.

Mortgages

Three-month mortgage payment holidays are available for those who are struggling.  If keeping up with your bills and food on the table may be a challenge, speak to your bank. On Tuesday 17 March, banks agreed with the Chancellor that they will offer ‘forbearance’ (tolerance and help) on mortgages.  This means they all should offer those struggling a three-month ‘holiday’, allowing customers a temporary break from having to make mortgage payments during this time.  This shouldn’t affect your credit score because it would be agreed in advance.  It’s not just mortgages – many banks will help those struggling to repay personal loans.

Rent

At time of writing the following statement is waiting to be passed by the government, ‘Private tenants will not be evicted from their homes for at least three months even if struggling with their rent under emergency coronavirus legislation announced by the housing secretary.’  If you rent your home and are struggling to keep up with payments due to coronavirus-related difficulties, you should speak to your landlord as soon as possible to work out a plan.

Consumer charity Citizens Advice has called for the Government to amend housing legislation to stop tenants being evicted if they fall into arrears due to coronavirus-related issues.

Credit cards

Most banks and card firms told us they will allow emergency credit limit increases (but be careful), while some will offer repayment holidays and a few will waive fees for missed payments.  If your debts are on credit cards it’s worth speaking to all lenders and asking what help they can give you – far better that than to miss payments without permission.

Sick Pay

The NHS is now asking anyone with a high temperature or cough – or living with someone with a high temperature or cough – to ‘self-isolate’.  If you need to take time off work due to becoming unwell from coronavirus, you’ll be entitled to your usual sick leave and sick pay.

If you’re self-isolating on Government advice, and would usually qualify for it, you should be entitled to statutory sick pay which currently stands at £94.25 a week – you must be employed and earn an average of at least £118 a week to be entitled to it.

The Government confirmed last week that statutory sick pay will be payable from day one, not day four if Covid-19 related.

Child Care

If your child’s school has closed due to coronavirus fears, or your child or another dependant has become unwell or needs to go into self-isolation, you should be able to take time off work to look after them. ACAS says that by law, employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event, though you don’t have a legal right to be paid for this time.

However, some employers may offer paid time off in this situation depending on your contract or your workplace’s policy. You may also be able to book the time off as holiday if you need to spend a longer period away from work – it’s best to speak to your employer directly to find out your options.

Redundancy

If you are made redundant, it’s vital to know your rights and get a survival plan in place. This could include sorting your finances and making a debt audit, and making sure you’re receiving all the help you’re entitled to.

Self Employed

If you’re on a zero hours contract, you can get statutory sick pay if you’re earning over £118/week. Yet you can’t get statutory sick pay if you’re self-employed – though if you have to take time off work and don’t get paid while you’re off, you might be entitled to claim benefits.  If you’re not claiming any benefits you might be entitled to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit to top up your income. Some changes are being made to these benefits in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ticketed Events

The Government has said that emergency service workers will no longer be supplied for mass gatherings – essentially cancelling all major UK events. However even before that announcement earlier this week many events had been cancelled.  If you’ve bought a ticket for an event which has been cancelled, you should usually get a refund, though double-check the terms and conditions.

Travel Season Tickets

Got a train season ticket? You can get a partial refund for a small admin fee.  With offices shutting, more and more commuters are finding themselves having paid for season tickets they are not using. You won’t be able to get a refund for a temporary period – say if you’re unable to travel for the next six weeks – but the good news is that depending how long you have left on them, season tickets are generally refundable. Contact whoever you bought the season ticket from – usually the train firm – to check how much you can get back.

Subscriptions

With working from home becoming more commonplace, events being cancelled and people being asked to self-isolate if they experience symptoms, the way people go about their lives is changing. So, you may no longer need or want goods and services you have subscribed to and are paying for – gym memberships and TV subscriptions are just a couple of examples.  Whether you’ll get your money back will depend on the specific circumstances and you should check with the supplier.

Council Tax

No plans have been announced for general council tax reductions or payment holidays to general households affected by coronavirus.  But the Governments £500m Hardship Fund announced in the last week’s Budget will be used alongside existing council tax support schemes to offer help to ‘economically vulnerable people and households’ – which could translate into a deduction to council tax for some.

Pensions and Investments

With stocks and shares or pension investments, there are only two prices that count: the price you buy at and the price you sell at. Markets move up and down all the time, and you won’t lose money until you crystallise by selling.  The markets have gone down – they may bounce back in a mild outbreak, or they may stay down for a long time if this becomes a long, systemic outbreak and hits the economy. Markets are unpredictable and there aren’t any answers – but for most people (unless you are imminently about to sell or take your pension and convert your investment into cash), the day-to-day moves on the back of coronavirus are mostly irrelevant. It’s only relevant if you’re looking to crystallise or you need the money now.

Taking the money out right now may be a really good idea if the markets drop further, or may be a really bad idea if the markets recover. And just like always with markets, no one knows which of those two eventualities is going to happen.

Life Insurance

If you have a life insurance or critical illness policy, the Association of British Insurers says you should be covered for claims related to coronavirus.

Scams

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has already identified 21 reports of fraud where coronavirus was mentioned since February.  The figure includes 10 scams where victims tried to buy protective masks from fraudsters. Other reports involved coronavirus-themed phishing emails designed to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive information. Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails and never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for your personal or financial details

Mental Health and Well Being

You might be worried about coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) and how it could affect your life. This may include being asked to stay at home or avoid other people. This might feel difficult or stressful. But there are lots of things you can try that could help your wellbeing.

If you’re staying at home or indoors, you might find these ideas helpful:

  • Find the right place to stay
  • Eat well and stay hydrated
  • Keep taking your medication
  • Continue accessing treatment and support if possible
  • Take care of your immediate environment

If you’ve been asked to stay at home and avoid other people, it might feel more difficult than usual to take care of your mental health and wellbeing.  These are some ideas which may help:

  • Connect with people
  • Decide on your routine
  • Try to keep active
  • Get as much sunlight, fresh air and nature as you can
  • Plan for working or studying at home
  • Find ways to spend your time
  • Find ways to relax and be creative
  • Keep your mind stimulated
  • Take care with news and information

Checklist: are you ready to stay at home for two weeks?

  • Money: can you budget for any higher bills or expenses? Will you save money from lower transport costs that you could spend elsewhere?
  • Work: can you work from home or not? If not, what are your rights to payment or benefits?
  • Medication: do you have enough medication, or a way to get more?
  • Health: can you reorganise any planned therapy or treatments?
  • Commitments: can someone else help you care for any dependents, walk your dog, or take care of any other commitments?
  • Connectivity: have you checked the contact details of the people you see regularly, like their phone numbers or email addresses?
  • Routine: can you create a routine or timetable for yourself? And if you live with other people, should you create a household schedule? Do you need to agree how the household will run with everyone at home all day?
  • Exercise: is there any physical activity you can do inside your home, such as going up and down the stairs, using bean tins as weights, or exercises you can do in your chair?
  • Nature: have you thought how you could access nature? Can you get some seeds and planting equipment, houseplants or living herbs?
  • Entertainment: have you thought about things to do, books to read or TV shows to watch?
  • Relax: have you got materials so you can do something creative, such as paper and colouring pencils

Travel

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice takes effect immediately and applies initially for a period of 30 days.  The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice.  If you now need to change or cancel your travel plans, follow these steps:

  1. contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers
  2. get in touch with your insurance provider
  3. continue to follow the NHS coronavirus guidance

Useful Websites

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/03/uk-coronavirus-help-and-your-rights/

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus