It’s been a difficult year for everyone and particularly tough on our finances, especially for those who have lost income or work. It’s been extremely hard to keep track of all the financial support measures and changes implemented by the Government, so we’ve tried to put everything together in one place so you can make sure you haven’t missed out on anything.
The Benefits System
Knowing which benefits you need to claim can be a minefield and making the wrong choice can have drastic consequences. The official advice always seems to be to claim Universal Credit but that’s not always the best option, especially if you’re already claiming old-style benefits such as Tax Credits, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment & Support Allowance or Income Support. Always do a proper benefits check using a calculator such as EntitledTo.co.uk or if you are in any doubt, get some professional advice. If you’ve been paying National Insurance Contributions in the last couple of years, you might be entitled to new-style Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment & Support Allowance which aren’t means-tested. You can now get new-style Employment & Support Allowance from day 1 of your claim instead of day 8 as it was previously.
Test & Trace Support Payment
The government has introduced a scheme to support low income workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, are employed or self-employed, are unable to work from home, will lose income as a result, and are currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Income-Related Employment Support Allowance, Pension Credit or Housing Benefit.
The payment is for £500 and is disregarded as income when calculating benefits but it is taxable.
Self-Employed Income Support Scheme
This scheme runs until the end of April 2021 for self-employed people who are actively trading but experiencing reduced demand due to COVID-19. For the period November 2020 to January 2021 it is paid at 20% of average monthly profits, up to a total of £1875 and the rate of further payments has not been set at the time of writing.
Suspension of the ‘Minimum Income Floor’
Under Universal Credit, self-employed workers were assumed to have an income equal to the national living wage for their required hours of work, even if they earn less than this. This rule has been relaxed until the end of April 2021, so Universal Credit should be based on what they actually earn.
Help with Council Tax (support, discounts, £150 extra)
You should first check whether you are entitled to any Council Tax discounts such as the Single Person Discount, disability-related discounts, student exemptions, etc. Next, you should see if you’re entitled to Council Tax Support, which is means-tested. If you get even a tiny amount, you should also be able to access the Council Tax Hardship Fund which should be at least an extra £150 off your bill.
Warm Home Discount
You may be able to get a one-off credit of £140 on your electricity bill if you meet the criteria set out by your supplier. Some suppliers only help if you are claiming certain benefits, but others just require your gross income to be less than a specified level. Check with your supplier to see if you qualify.
United Utilities has extended its ‘Back on Track’ scheme to provide financial support to customers who receive certain benefits or tax credits and whose income has been affected by COVID-19. If you are accepted onto the scheme, your annual bill is reduced to a much lower amount.
If your income is low and you have children in school, it’s worth checking if you’re eligible for free school meals. If you’re eligible and your child has to stay off school to isolate, you should be provided with a voucher to spend at selected retailers. It’s also noteworthy that as things stand at the moment, if you qualify for free school meals under the Universal Credit route you will remain eligible until your child finishes education, even if your circumstances later improve.
You can get free advice about any of these issues from our Money Advice Officer, Steven Higham. Alternatively, you can contact Citizens Advice on 0800 144 8848.