12 April 2021
Advice Column: Self-Employed Support Scheme 

I am self-employed and work has really fallen away because of the Coronavirus restrictions. I claimed for the first three Self-Employment Income Support Scheme payments and heard that there is some additional help now available from the Scheme. What’s the latest?

 

The Government has announced a further grant under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for the period February 2021 to April 2021.

 

  • HMRC will work out your eligibility by firstly looking at your 2019 to 2020 Self Assessment tax return. Your trading profits must be no more than £50,000 and at least equal to your non-trading income.

 

  • If you’re not eligible based on your 2019 to 2020 Self Assessment tax return, HMRC will then look at the tax years 2016 to 2017, 2017 to 2018, 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020.


  • You must also have traded in both tax years; 2019 to 2020 and submitted your tax return by 2 March 2021, and 2020 to 2021

 

  • You must either be currently trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus, or have been trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus

 

  • You must also declare that you intend to continue to trade and that you reasonably believe there will be a significant reduction in your trading profits due to reduced business activity, capacity, demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus

 

The grant will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months’ average trading profits, and will be paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total. The online claims service for the fourth grant will be available from late April 2021 until 31 May 2021. If you are eligible, HMRC will contact you in mid-April to give you your personal claim date. This will be the date that you can make your claim from.

 

The Government has also announced that there will be a further grant covering the period from May to September 2021. You will be able to claim from late July if you are eligible for the fifth grant. The amount of the fifth grant will be determined by how much your turnover has been reduced in the year April 2020 to April 2021. The fifth grant will be worth:

 

  • 80% of 3 months’ average trading profits, capped at £7,500, for those with a turnover reduction of 30% or more

 

  • 30% of 3 months’ average trading profits, capped at £2,850, for those with a turnover reduction of less than 30%

 

Further more information and advice is available at: GOV.UK

 

 


29 March 2021
Advice Column: Council Tax Arrears 

I have received my new Council Tax bill. I think I am going to really struggle to pay it in full this year as my hours at work have been reduced. What help is available?

 

If you are having problems paying your council tax it’s important to keep in contact with your local authority and to let them know of any change of circumstances and to discuss potential repayment options. You need to deal with some debts more urgently than others because the consequences of not paying them can be more serious than for other debts. These are known as priority debts and include council tax debts.

 

Local authorities in England are responsible for running their own local schemes for help with council tax. These are called Council Tax Reduction schemes. You can no longer make a claim for Council Tax Benefit. Council Tax Reduction – also known as Council Tax Support – is a reduction you may be able to get on your council tax if you're on a low income

 

Everyone of working age has to pay something towards their council tax bill, with few exceptions. When deciding on its scheme, a local authority should take into account the needs of vulnerable people and support work incentives.

 

If you receive Council Tax Support, you are of working age and you are in a vulnerable financial situation you may be able to receive short-term assistance from the local authority.  Check the local authority website for more details of the Council Tax Support scheme and how to apply for additional help.

 

If you're a pensioner, you should still be able to get the same level of Council Tax Reduction as you would have done if you were getting Council Tax Benefit. This means that if your income is less than an amount the government says you need to live on you will be entitled to maximum Council Tax Reduction.

 

If you get the guarantee credit part of Pension Credit, your income and capital are ignored and you will get full Council Tax Reduction. When working out your entitlement to Council Tax Reduction, the way some things are dealt with will be the same for all pensioners, regardless of where you live. This includes:

 

·        the way your income and capital are worked out

·        the way your applicable amount is worked out. This is the amount the government says you need to live on

·        the way non-dependant deductions are worked out

·        the way temporary absences from home are dealt with.

 

All pensioners must also be allowed to apply for a second adult rebate under the Council Tax Reduction scheme.

 

All council tax payers can ask for a longer period over which to pay their council tax, normally moving from 10 months to 12 months.

 

For more information and advice go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 

 


15 March 2021
Advice Column: Postal Services

We’ve had a lot of issues receiving our post recently and haven’t seen our usual postie around in a little while. I know that a couple of Christmas cards I sent in December still haven’t been received. And some of my neighbours who are shielding, and completely reliant on shopping online, have had some of their deliveries delayed too. Is there anything I can do?

 

You’re not alone, we know posties are currently working very hard, but we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us for advice about post and parcel issues.

 

Letters

 

If you haven’t received any letters in your post, think about if there’s anything you were expecting like bills that might be due soon. If you’re missing a bill you could check your account online to see how else you could pay. Lots of businesses offer online chat, email and phone as a way to contact them.

 

If you’re worried about missing letters about any benefits you receive you can contact the Department for Work and Pensions on the number given on any previous letters you’ve had. If you have questions about Universal Credit and don’t have a digital account, you can call the Universal Credit helpline on 0800 328 5644

 

You can check Royal Mail’s website for updates on areas which may be experiencing delays.

 

Parcels

If you bought something from a business to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you.

 

If the seller used a courier, they should chase the courier to find out what’s happened to your order - it’s not your responsibility.

 

Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is.

 

If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances where the delivery time was essential and you let the trader know ahead of time. 

 

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you can ask the seller to deliver the item again if the item wasn’t delivered either:

 

  • by an agreed date
  • within a reasonable time - usually within 30 days.

 

If the new delivery fails to come within a reasonable time you can ask the trader for a refund.

 

If you ordered something from a private seller or if you think a seller had broken the law by refusing to deliver an item, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 for help.

 



01 March 2021
Chancellor must act to tackle rent debt crisis

Joint statement by Torbay Health & Well-being Voluntary Sector Network


At least half a million private renters are in arrears due to the economic impact of Covid-19. The UK Government’s own research shows that ‘private renters report being hardest hit by the pandemic’.


Renters and landlords whose finances have been affected since lockdown cannot keep tenancies going without additional financial support.

We welcome many of the measures taken to date, which have helped to sustain tenancies in the short term. But they do not go far enough to adequately protect renters going forward.


The longer the Chancellor waits to take action, the more rent debts will increase, and the greater the risk of homelessness will become. Without additional support, more renters will lose their homes in the coming months, with the risk of an increase in homelessness.


As organisations with the aim of sustaining tenancies wherever possible we consider that this requires two things in the forthcoming Budget.


First, a targeted financial package to help renters pay off arrears built since lockdown measures started in March last year. This will help to sustain existing tenancies and keep renters in their homes – whilst also ensuring rental debt does not risk them finding homes in the future.


Secondly, we need a welfare system that provides renters with the security of knowing that they can afford their homes. The pandemic has shown how vital this is to providing security at a time of crisis. The Government increased Universal Credit and Housing Benefit because it recognised that the system was not doing enough to support people in the first place, yet it has chosen to freeze Housing Benefit rates again from April and is considering cutting Universal Credit at the same time. It cannot be right that these measures could be pulled away from renters during continued economic uncertainty.


We urge the Chancellor to act now to avoid renters being scarred by debts they have no hope of clearing and a wave of people having to leave their homes in the weeks and months to come.



Signed on behalf of Torbay Health & Well-being Voluntary Sector Network; Age UK Torbay, Brixham Does Care, Citizens Advice Torbay, Engaging Communities South West (Healthwatch Torbay), Shekinah Mission (Plymouth) Ltd, Torbay Community Development Trust, and YES Brixham

01 March 2021
Advice Column: Census

I’ve heard that the Census is happening later this month. What date is it taking place and what is it for?

 

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales. Below are some answers to the questions people may have about the Census:

 

  • When should I fill in my census questionnaire? Census Day is Sunday 21 March – but you can fill yours in as soon as you get your access code in the post. Your answers should be about the people who usually live in your household on this date – even if you’re filling it in before then. If you need help, visit www.census.gov.uk  
  • Do I have to take part? If you live in England and Wales, you must take part in the census - it’s a legal requirement. Census information helps inform how billions of pounds of public funding is spent. By taking around 10 minutes per person to fill in the census questionnaire, you will help make sure your community gets the services needed now and in the future.  
  • Will the government use the information I provide to identify me?No. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is an independent public body, carries out the census in England and Wales. It only ever publishes anonymous information from the census. In fact, it’s a crime to share personal census information and everything you say is protected.  
  • How will the census make a difference to me? The census makes a difference to everyone. It’s a once-in-a-decade chance to have your voice heard and help inform the future of your local area.  
  • What if I do not identify with the census options? The census asks you about your ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, religion and national identity. It’s up to you to decide how you would like to answer each question. Some questions allow for a free text response rather than having to use predefined categories. Do it in the way that you feel best represents you.  
  • Could information I share affect my benefits or immigration status?No. The information you share in the census cannot be used to influence benefit claims, a residency application, immigration status or your taxes. Officials dealing with payments or services you receive cannot see your census information.  
  • What if I cannot fill in my census questionnaire online? The ONS can help with a wide range of support services to make it as easy as possible for you, whatever your needs. Services include:  

•        guidance and support in many languages and formats

•        help over the phone, in a web chat or on social media

•        a paper version of the questionnaire, if you prefer

•        accessible census guidance, for example in braille

Everyone will receive a postcard followed by a letter with their digital access code which will contain both the website address and phone number for census support.  

  • Why is the census asking me about my gender and sexual orientation? This census asks voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. This is to give more accurate information on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations. This will help organisations combat any inequalities these groups face and show where services are needed. The census will only ask people aged 16 years and over these questions. If you do not feel comfortable identifying on the same form as the rest of your household, you can request an individual census questionnaire and answer separately.  
  • Can I help friends and family fill in the census? Yes. If a friend or family member needs support, help them if you can. Always fill in your own census first. You can also ask for help for yourself, or for someone else.  
  • Is it safe for the census to go ahead at present? Yes. The ONS has planned and built a flexible operation which can adapt to the changing circumstances of the pandemic. It will continue to review and adapt these plans to ensure census staff and the public can be kept safe and everyone can be safely counted. It is important to note that the ONS hopes that about 75% of the population will complete the census online without the need for any additional support.

 



15 February 2021
Advice Column: Debt Top Tips

With the new financial year starting in April, I thought that now would be a good time to try and get on top of my financial situation. I have some debts too. Where should I start?

 

It is an excellent idea to review your finances at the start of the new financial year, particularly when people’s financial situations change due to things such as annual council tax bills, or pay rates.

 

Follow our top tips to help get your finances in order:

 

  1. Work out how much you owe - Make a list of who you owe money to and add up how much you need to pay each month. If you don’t have your most recent statements, contact your creditors to find out what you owe.  
  2. Prioritise your debts - Your rent or mortgage, energy and council tax are called priority debts as there can be serious consequences if you don’t pay them. These should always be paid first. Separate these and work out how much you owe. 
  3. Work out how much you can pay - Create a budget by adding up your essential living costs, such as food and housing, and taking away these from your income. Any money you have spare can be put towards paying your debts. There is a budgeting tool on the Citizens Advice website which can help with this. 
  4. Paying urgent debts - You may have several priority debts and can’t pay them all. Contact all your creditors to find out if you can negotiate on how much you pay, or when you pay them. Always firstly pay any priority creditors who are taking action against you. 
  5. Paying non-urgent debts - If you have any money left after paying priority debts, consider getting a free debt-management plan. You’ll make one monthly payment to the plan provider, who will handle paying your creditors. Or contact your creditors and offer them what you can afford to pay. 
  6. If you can’t pay your debts - If you’ve got little or no money spare to pay your priority debts seek advice straight away.

 

Our website - ww.citizensadvice.org.uk - has lots of help and advice on how to review your financial situation to improve your financial security.

 


01 February 2021
Advice Column: Coronavirus Scams 

I’m really worried about my elderly relatives being targeted by coronavirus scams - are there any warning signs that I can tell them to look out for? What should they do if they think that something is a scam?

 

Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in scams since the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s good to be thinking about the steps you can take to help protect friends and family.

 

Common scams we’re seeing are about bogus testing kits, coronavirus vaccinations and government refunds or fines. You should watch out for messages about coronavirus from unusual email addresses or phone numbers, and shouldn’t click on any links. Be aware that you won’t be asked to pay for coronavirus vaccinations - they are provided for free by the NHS.

 

Here are some general warning signs to look out for:

 

  • You suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
  • You’ve been asked to transfer money quickly or to pay in an unusual way – for example, by iTunes vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
  • You’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
  • You haven't had written confirmation of what's been agreed

 

If you think something is a scam you should hang up the phone, close the website, or shut the front door. Never feel pressured to make a decision straight away, and don’t give out personal details or money unless you’re certain that they can trust the person. If you feel threatened or unsafe you can ring 999.

 

For help with online scams, contact a Citizens Advice Scams Action adviser by calling 0808 250 5050.

 

For more information about other types of scams, visit the Citizens Advice website - to www.citizensadvice.org.uk

 


18 January 2021
Advice Column: Savvy Shopping 

With all the financial pressures last year, I agreed with family that we would only exchange token presents on Christmas Day and that we would look to buy additional gifts online in the January sales when we hope to get some bargains. What should shoppers look out for?


This is an excellent way to make your budget go further. However, it is important that you are aware of your online shopping rights and stick to your budget. 


We have seen the number of people coming to our consumer service about online shopping nearly double, when compared to the same period in 2019. Our Consumer expert shares her top tips to help consumers stay safe online:


1.If you change your mind about a purchase If you buy online, unless it’s bespoke, made to measure, or you’ve broken a digital or hygiene seal, by law you will get an automatic 14-day cooling off period. This starts the day after you receive your order, and there doesn’t need to be anything wrong with the item for you to get a refund.


If you buy something in person, shops aren’t legally required to accept returns for unwanted goods. Despite this, the shop may choose to have its own returns policy. If it does, they must honour it, so it’s worth checking your receipt. 


2.If you’re worried your purchase is faulty If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, you may be entitled to a refund. You’ll have legal rights if you unwittingly bought an item that is broken or damaged, unusable, not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description.


You’ll have to move quickly, as you only have 30 days to return something that's faulty with the guarantee of getting your money back. Your rights don’t end after 30 days, though after this period the retailer doesn’t necessarily have to refund you, instead they have the option of repairing or replacing the faulty product.


3.If you’re worried about scams - Be careful not to end up with a counterfeit item. Secure websites should start “https” and have a padlock symbol in the taskbar. Be wary of spelling or grammar mistakes, and companies that don’t provide an address.


Also seek out reviews of the seller from other buyers as these can help you decide whether or not you trust the seller. If there is a lot of negative feedback from other people, it’s often a sign that something’s not right.


If you’re worried that something you’ve seen online might be a scam, you can get help from the Citizens Advice Scams Action service.


4.If there’s a problem with your delivery With more people buying online, more people are experiencing delivery problems. Just under half (47%) of UK adults have had a parcel delivery problem since the first lockdown in March.


If you bought something to be delivered, it’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. If the seller used a delivery company, they should chase the company to find out what’s happened to your order - it’s not your responsibility.


Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is. Be careful in selecting safe places; if you nominate a safe place and the parcel is stolen you might have lost the right to a replacement.


5.Keeping within your budget: It’s important that anyone thinking about turning to credit or taking out a loan to help pay for purchases understands the full costs involved and if they can actually afford to pay it back.


If you are struggling with your finances, it is important to do something about it as soon as possible. You can get free debt and money advice from Citizens Advice to find a way forward and avoid spiralling debts.


Further information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk






13 January 2021

Citizens Advice Torbay response to extension of ban on bailiff enforced evictions 

Leading local advice charity, Citizens Advice Torbay, has responded to the government announcement of an extension of the ban bailiff enforced evictions.


Steve Barriball, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Torbay, said:


“The government has made the right decision to extend this protection. Renters who are struggling with arrears shouldn’t face the prospect of losing the roof over their head when everyone is being asked to stay at home. 


“However, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in arrears and this debt will continue to hang over them. The government should put in place targeted financial support for tenants in England who’ve fallen behind on their rent.”


Background


On Tuesday 5th January, national Citizens Advice published new research which estimated that half a million renters remained in arrears, with the average amount owed being £730, which would mean around £360 million is owed across the country.



Citizens Advice Torbay is calling for:


·      A legal ban on bailiff action and pause on all possession proceedings during the national lockdown in England and in tiers 2 and above beyond 11 January


·      targeted financial support for people in England who’ve built up rent arrears. The government should consider a system of grants and government-backed loans - comparable to schemes in Scotland and Wales - to help people pay back their rent arrears sustainably and stay in their homes.



05 January 2021
Advice Column: Financial Healthcheck 

I know that I overspent at Christmas and will struggle to pay my bills this New Year. What should I do to make sure I am in a better financial situation next year?


It is a good idea to start the New Year with a resolution to carry out a money overhaul and make sure that you are getting the best possible deals. We expect to see debt levels rise into 2021 as the financial impact of Coronavirus becomes more evident.


Ten top tips for 2021:


1.              Check that you are not missing out on money that you should be getting in benefits or tax credits, tax rebates or allowances.

2.              If you really need to consider taking out a loan, make sure you shop around and get the best deal. Look out for low interest rates.

3.              Be wary of consolidating your debts. Get advice and don’t put your home unnecessarily at risk. Defaulting on a loan secured against your home could mean that you lose your home.

4.              Plan to build up an emergency savings fund by saving a regular amount each week or each month.

5.              Shop around for the best savings rates and check regularly that it is still the best deal available.

6.              Check out tax efficient ways to save money like cash ISAs (Individual Savings Account)

7.              Be wary of low interest credit card transfers. Check the terms and conditions carefully.

8.              You may be losing money by sticking with your existing bank or energy supplier; shop around, it‘s simple to change.

9.              Don't automatically renew your car, holiday, or house insurance without comparing prices.

10.           Start planning ahead for next Christmas by setting a little aside each week and save it in an interest bearing account, such as a Credit Union or special Christmas savings account


All too often people come to us when they've already reached crisis point or can no longer cope with their problems. By carrying out a regular financial overhaul and taking some preventative measures many problems could be averted before they become crises. Traditionally people make New Year’s resolutions to change bad habits - we're urging people to do the same with their finances.

For more information and advice about debt and money, go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk



22 December 2020
Advice Column: Talk About Abuse 

I’ve heard about your Talk about Abuse campaign. What is it and how can I support the campaign?


Talk about Abuse is a campaign to encourage people to look for signs of domestic abuse among their friends and family, to talk about it, listen and support, and suggest further help.


One in fifteen women and one in every 33 men experience domestic abuse at the hands of their partner or former partner. A quarter of women and just over a tenth of men have experienced this kind of abuse at some point in their adult lives. Around a third of those who are victimised, experienced ‘severe force’, and for some this is an almost continuous feature of their lives: three per cent of victims experienced abuse in the previous year “more than 50 times or too many times to count”.


Specialists - in the form of refuges, legal professionals and police, and helplines or support services - play a critical role for many victims. However, many victims don’t engage with these groups; our Talk About Abuse campaign aims to address this.


Our Talk About Abuse campaign focuses on informal networks of friends, family, neighbours or colleagues. Friends and family may be able to support victims where others might not be able to. We want to enable friends and family to recognise abuse, to talk about it safely and enable victims to make the right decisions for themselves.


While it is a difficult and delicate, we know that proactively talking about whether somebody is experiencing abuse - rather than waiting for them to broach the subject - makes it easier for victims to disclose. The campaign is about communicating a clear message to encourage and guide friends and family to look for signs of domestic abuse, and to talk about it.



07 December 2020
Advice Column: Self-Employment 

I am self-employed and work has really fallen away because of the Coronavirus restrictions. I claimed for the first two Self-Employment Income Support Scheme payments and heard that there is some additional help now available from the Scheme. What’s the latest?


The Government has announced that the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be extended in the form of two further grants; each available for three month periods covering November 2020 to January 2021 and February 2021 to April 2021.


To be eligible for the grant extension self-employed individuals, including members of partnerships, must:


  • have been previously eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme first and second grant (although they do not have to have claimed the previous grants)
  • declare that they intend to continue to trade and are either currently actively trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus, or were previously trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus


The grant covering the period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021 will provide a taxable grant calculated at 80% of 3 months average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £7,500 in total.


The Government has already announced that there will be a further grant covering the period from February 2021 to April 2021. The Government will set out further details, including the level, of the grant in due course.

The grants are taxable income and also subject to National Insurance contributions.


The online service for the next grant will be available from 30 November 2020. HMRC will provide full details about claiming and applications in guidance on GOV.UK in due course.


Further more information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk



23 November 2020
Advice Column - Eviction Worries

I have fallen behind with my rent payments as my income has been severely reduced over the last 6 months and I am really worried about being evicted. What is the process?


The ban on evictions came to an end in September and there is evidence to suggest that concern is building amongst renters about the possibility of losing their home, with previous research suggesting that over a million people have fallen behind on their rent due to Covid-19. We are calling on the Government to urgently consider direct financial support to help renters clear their debts and stay in their homes, and so make good its promise that no renter will be evicted because of coronavirus


It is important that you consider the following the top five ‘need-to-knows’ for renters in England worried about staying in their home. Please note that this does not apply to lodgers.


  1. Find out where you are in the process


If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages they’ll have to go through. First, they’ll need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, they need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.


If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months. If your landlord has already got a possession order and applied for a bailiff date, you might be evicted with 14 days notice.


If you haven’t received notice yet but are worried about eviction


If you haven’t yet been given notice, but are worried about the possibility, talk to your landlord. Explain the effect that coronavirus has had on your household and income. Ask if they’ll accept reduced payments, or let you pay back arrears at a rate you can afford. 


Both the Government and the landlords’ body the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) have asked landlords to be sympathetic to tenants affected by the pandemic.

You should also make sure you’re receiving all the benefits you might be entitled to.


If you’ve received a notice


The rules on the notice your landlord must give have changed — it may now be up to six months depending on when the notice was served. 


The notice must also be in a specific form, so make sure you have a copy and get it checked. If the landlord hasn’t followed other rules during your tenancy this might also mean that the notice is invalid. 


Your landlord can only make a claim to court after the notice ends. You don’t need to leave by this date, but going to court might mean costs are added to your debt if the notice is valid.


If your notice is expiring and you’re due to go to court


After 20 September, courts started hearings again. If your landlord started the claim after 3 August, you’ll be given a court date automatically, otherwise the landlord will need to serve a ‘reactivation notice’ to restart proceedings.


Return your defence form if you want the court to consider your evidence or allow you extra time in the property. Supply any evidence or information which you gave your landlord about the effect of Covid-19 on your household and of any payments you’ve made.


The court will look at the information provided by you and the landlord and decide whether to make an order for possession. In some cases you might be able to stay if you can agree to affordable repayments, but the court has no discretion to allow you to stay if you’ve had a valid Section 21 notice - so-called ‘no fault eviction’.


If the possession order is granted, it will usually ask you to leave within 2 to 6 weeks.

If you’ve had a possession order and are facing eviction


If the court had already decided your case before the eviction ban started (27 March 2020), you may be given 14 days notice that bailiffs will carry out an eviction. 


You should seek urgent advice - from Citizens Advice or another housing charity - about whether there’s any way to prevent or delay the eviction, or about finding alternative accommodation.


For more information and advice visit: www.citizensadvice.org.uk  


09 November 2020
Advice Column: Job Retention Scheme Extension 

I have previously been furloughed by my employer because of Coronavirus. With the announcement of a further lockdown, what is being done to support employees?


The Government had announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), also known as the ‘furlough scheme, would end on the 31st October 2020, with a new Job Support Scheme (JSS) replacing it. However, the Government has now announced an extension until December to the CJRS following the announcement of a further period of lockdown.


The extended Job Retention Scheme will see the Government paying 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 and employers paying employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions for the hours the employee does not work. Employers are still able to choose to top up employee wages at their own expense if they wish. Flexible furloughing will be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing.


In addition, the Government has announced an extension to the mortgage payment holiday arrangements. Borrowers who have been impacted by Coronavirus and have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday will be entitled to a six month holiday, and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.


The Government has also announced that the Job Support Scheme will be introduced following the end of the CJRS. The JSS provides different types of support to businesses according to their situation. Businesses that are operating but facing decreased demand can get support for wages through the JSS ‘Open’ scheme. Those businesses that are legally required to close their premises as a direct result of coronavirus restrictions can get support through the JSS ‘Closed’ scheme.


·        Where the rules of the ‘Open’ scheme apply, the employee will need to work a minimum of 20% of their usual hours and the employer will continue to pay them as normal for the hours worked. Alongside this, the employee will receive 66.67% of their normal pay for the hours not worked - this will be made up of contributions from the employer and from the Government. The Government says that this will ensure employees continue to receive at least 73% of their normal wages, where they earn £3,125 a month or less.

·        Where the rules of the ‘Closed’ scheme apply, each employee who cannot work due to restrictions will receive two thirds of their normal pay, paid by their employer and fully funded by the Government, to a maximum of £2,083.33 per month. The employer has discretion to pay more than this if they wish. Employees may also be entitled to additional financial support, including Universal Credit.


For the most up to date information and advice visit: GOV.UK    


16 October 2020
Advice Column: School Costs

My children have gone back to school, but I am struggling financially as we have been living off a reduced furlough income and now my hours at work have been reduced. Is there any support available to help with school costs?


We know the costs of schooling can be a stretch for people’s budgets, particularly if you’re on a low income. If you’ve claimed benefits for the first time during this pandemic, or have seen your circumstances change, it’s worth checking whether you can apply for extra help with costs such as school lunches, transport or uniforms. 


Here is our checklist for help with ongoing school costs: 


1.Free school meals. Children in Reception and Years 1 or 2 automatically get free school meals. If you have older children you can apply for free school meals if you get certain benefits:


- Universal Credit - if you started your claim for Universal Credit before 1 April 2018 or generally earn less than £7,400 a year after tax, not including benefits.

- Child Tax Credit - but you can't apply for free meals if your yearly income is £16,190 or more before tax or you're also entitled to Working Tax Credit.

- Working Tax Credit run-on - you might get this for four weeks if you're no longer eligible for Working Tax Credit.

- Income Support.

- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance

- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

- Guarantee Credit (part of Pension Credit)

- Asylum Support - if you've asked for asylum and you're waiting for a decision.


2.Help with transport to and from school. If your child is aged five to 16, the local education authority may offer free or lower cost transport if you don't live near school or your child's unable to walk there. You need to apply to your local education authority for help.


3.Help with activity costs and school uniforms. If you're on a low income, your local education authority might help you with some other costs, such as uniforms or musical instrument lessons. You're probably on a low income if you get means-tested benefits such Universal Credit, tax credit or Income Support, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance or JobSeeker’s Allowance. If you're not sure, you can ask staff at your local education authority. There may also be local charitable schemes to help with school uniforms - it’s worth checking with the school to see if it knows of any. Schools can sometimes also advise on finding second-hand uniforms.


4.Disability living allowance. This is extra money to help with everyday costs if your child is under 16 and disabled or has a health condition. You can get between £23.60 and £151.40 a week, and it isn't means tested, so how much you earn doesn't impact how much you can get.


5.Carrying on learning after year 11? If your child is staying in education after year 11, you must tell HMRC’s Child Benefit Office if you want to continue receiving child benefit and any extra support for children within means-tested benefits. When your child turns 16, HMRC will send you a letter asking whether your child will stay in education or training. You must reply to this letter to keep getting Child Benefit.


To apply for free school meals you need to contact your local education authority.

Further information and advice is available at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk