4. NATIONAL RESPONSE UPDATE
4.1 Free school meals to continue over the Easter Holidays
We are pleased to see that after Liberal Democrat MPs called on the UK Government to ensure children on free school meals will continue to receive vouchers over the Easter holidays (covered in our last update), the government has announced this week that families eligible for free school meals (FSM) will continue to receive financial help to buy food over the Easter break: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52183713
4.2 Education advice for parents and carers from the National Education Union
The National Education Union has created a site to support parents and carers to help children carry on engaging in learning while schools are closed: https://coronavirusandschools.org.uk
4.3 Energy providers - paying your bills
The government has launched an emergency package with energy suppliers to ensure you don’t face any additional hardships in heating or lighting your home during the coronavirus outbreak. If you are struggling with money problems or are repaying a debt, options will include:
Customers with prepayment meters who are self-isolating or unable to leave their home can now speak to their supplier about support during this time, including:
- reviewing bill payment plans, including debt repayment plans
- payment breaks or reductions in how much you pay
- giving you greater time to pay
- in some cases access to hardship funds
When contacting your supplier, they must tell you:
- someone being sent to top up your prepayment card or token
- having funds added to your meter credit
- having a preloaded gas or electricity card sent to you in the post.
If you think you can’t afford to pay for any extra gas or electricity used because you’re having to self-isolate at home, support will be available through your energy supplier. Your supplier must take into account how much you can afford, and will explain your options.
- what customer service support is available, particularly if you are vulnerable
- how you are supported if you can’t top up or could go off supply.
Note: no credit meters (where you pay for your energy after you have used it) will be disconnected during the outbreak.
Now may also be a good time for you or a loved one to join your energy provider's Priority Services Register, which can give the registered recipient priority support in an emergency, as well as allowing a nominated person to receive account information and bills. The account holder is eligible if they:
- are of pensionable age
- are disabled or chronically sick
- have a long-term medical condition
- have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs
- are in a vulnerable situation
Each energy supplier and network operator maintains its own register so you will need to contact your energy supplier to get on their Priority Services Register.
For further general advice on household energy bill support, please see the following page from the National Regulatory Authority: Ofgem
and for information on the Priority Services Register click here.
4.4 TV, Internet & mobile providers
The UK’s major internet service and mobile providers, namely BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone and Three have all agreed to a set of commitments.
- All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bill as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
- All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband
- All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
- All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.
For TV subscribers:
Virgin Media and Sky TV are allowing customers to pause payments on Sky Sport and Bt Sport channels. You'll still be able to watch the channels you’ve paused, but you won’t be charged. Complete the following forms to pause your subscription
If you’re having trouble paying your bills please contact your provider directly.
4.5 Tax payments – Updated Guidance
All businesses and self-employed that find themselves in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. This support is available now, and arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.
HMRC has a set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to coronavirus. Anyone who is running a business or is self-employed and is concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus, can call HMRC’s helpline for help and advice: 0800 024 1222
View the following links for more information on:
4.6 VAT deferrals – Updated Guidance
For those who are unable to pay VAT due between 20 March and end June 2020, payment can be deferred to 31 March 2021. There is no need to apply as eligibility is automatic. Customers who normally pay by direct debit should cancel their direct debit with their bank if they are unable to pay. It is very important this is done in sufficient time.
Updated guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/deferral-of-vat-payments-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19
4.7 Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme - Updated Guidance
Over the weekend the Government announced an extension to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme to support small businesses.
Previously only viable small businesses unable to secure regular commercial financing were eligible - now all viable small businesses are eligible. The Government is also waiving the requirement for personal guarantees for loans under £250,000.
To find out more about the scheme click the following link: https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils-2/
4.8 Job Retention Scheme - Updated Guidance
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allows businesses to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.
Updated guidance for employers: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Updated guidance for employees: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
4.9 Furlough – additional advice
The government has issued additional advice on the furlough scheme. Notably, it provides advice for those wanting to take on a temporary job whilst being furloughed from a permanent one; on paternity/maternity leave; and includes details for those in specific categories such as agency workers; company directors; a salaried member of a Limited Liability Partnership; Limb workers and office holders.
Importantly, if you were made redundant, changed jobs and are therefore not eligible for the furlough scheme with your new employer, or stopped working for your employer after 28 February 2020, your previous employer can agree to re-employ you and place you on furlough. They’ll still be able to claim a grant to cover 80% of your regular wages, up to a monthly cap of £2,500 if you were on your employer’s PAYE payroll on 28 February 2020.
More information on the Job Retention Scheme: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Information on being rehired to be placed on furlough: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/04/left-a-job-after-28-feb-and-new-job-fell-through--you-can-be-reh/
4.10 Pregnancy and maternity leave rights and benefits
Maternity Action has produced COVID-19 related advice for pregnant women and new parents. There are FAQ sections on health & safety adjustments at work; maternity pay and benefits; the furlough scheme; and other issues. They are advising that, under existing health & safety law, pregnant women should be offered home working or safe alternative work, or suspended on full pay, and have produced a model letter for pregnant women to send to their employer.
The advice is here: https://maternityaction.org.uk/covidmaternityfaqs/
The letter is here: https://twitter.com/MaternityAction/status/1246355587287453697
4.11 Visa & immigration – new advice
The government has issued new guidance for visa applicants and temporary UK residents, including for doctors, nurses, paramedics and their families: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-uk-visa-applicants-and-temporary-uk-residents
General Covid-19 visa and immigration related content can be found here:
4.12 How to care for your pets during the Covid-19 crisis
The RSPCA’s Q&A can be found here: https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/latest/blogs/details/-/articleName/how-to-care-for-your-pets-if-you-re-ill-or-have-to-self-isolate-due-to-coronavirus
4.13 SCAM: email about over-75s TV licences
Please note that over 75's do not need to pay anything yet for their TV licence. There are a lot of scam emails asking for payment for the TV licence fee.
The TV licensing website https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/coronavirus says the following:
"Due to the impact of Coronavirus the BBC has delayed the planned changes to the free over 75 TV Licence. This means you don’t need to do anything right away and your current free licence will be automatically extended. We’ll be writing to all current free over 75 TV Licence holders before the policy changes to let them know what they need to do."