Coronavirus: Money and financial support

image: a family at home

At Optivo, we understand this is a difficult time for you. You’re thinking about your health and your family. On top of this, you may be worrying about money and paying the bills. We’ve created an FAQ guide to help you. Information is changing quickly, so we’ll regularly update this guide.

We’re here to help you. Our Income Team can talk through your rent account, and payment options, so please speak to them if you need to.

Our Financial Inclusion Team can also help you make the most of your money, support you to claim money you may be entitled to and help you save money on your bills.

If you’re a shared owner or leaseholder, we can refer you to our specialist Financial Inclusion Team.
 

Frequently asked questions:

What is a government Bounce back Loan and who can apply?

This Bounce back loan scheme will launch on 4 May 2020. It will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000.

The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.

Loan terms will be up to 6 years. No repayments will be due during the first 12 months. The government will work with lenders to agree a low rate of interest for the remaining period of the loan.

The scheme will be delivered through a network of accredited lenders.

Applicants will need to complete a quick 2 page form. When approved the money will be paid to you within 24 hours. Find out more here.
 

I’m struggling make a benefit claim, can Optivo help me?

Of course! We’re here to help.

Please contact your Income Officer in the first instance and we’ll guide you through what you are able to do. We can even refer you to the Financial Inclusion Team for specialist advice. 

You can also ask for a call back from our Financial Inclusion Team by contacting us online, using our online form or MyAccount.

I’m a shared owner/leaseholder is there any financial help available for me?

The Chancellor has announced that all banks should give mortgage customers up to three months ‘payment holiday’ for those affected by loss of income due to Coronavirus. Please speak to your lender to see how this can help you. 

It’s really important you keep Optivo up to date about your situation as there is lots of help we can offer too. Contact us as soon as you think you may struggle to pay your bills.

Apart from claiming benefits what other financial help is available?

You may be able to save money on your utility bills. You can check this via price comparison websites.


You can also find information about making sure you receive essential services through the Priority Service Register here

Telephone and TV bills can also be high, if you are out of contract, you may be able to negotiate on price or shop around for a better deal.

If you’d like one of our Financial Inclusion Officers to help you with any of this, please contact us.  

How can Optivo help?

We know things could be really difficult for you right now and we're here to help. If you're concerned about paying your rent then we can provide advice on what can be done to help improve your circumstances.
 
Every person's situation is different so we'll look at every case individually. Although we’re not offering payment breaks there is still a lot we can do to assist.
 
We’re able to:
  • Review your financial situation based on your specific set of circumstances
  • Provide advice on what to do if there's been a loss of income
  • Assist people who have been self-employed and are affected
  •  Advise what benefits you might be entitled to
  • Give information on how to apply for Universal Credit and manage the claim.
  • Provide support with debts or budgeting
  • Help with applications for a Discretionary Housing Payment
  • Offer phone appointments with our Income Officers so you can discuss any concerns in more detail.
 
 If you'd like support with any of the above, please get in touch.
 
Optivo residents can also keep track of their rent payments and view their rent statement and any service charge information online at any time using MyAccount.
 
Your health and safety is our number one priority and we’re continuing to closely monitor the situation around coronavirus. We're updating our website regularly as the situation progresses. Go to www.optivo.org.uk/coronavirus for all our updates.  

Are you worried about paying your energy bills?

New emergency measures have been agreed to support vulnerable people with their energy bills through the Coronavirus health crisis.

The Government proposals aim to ensure vulnerable customers, who may fall into debt, remain supplied with energy while in self-isolation.

Customers with pre-payment meters, who may not be able to add credit, can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied.

Energy suppliers are also offering help to those who may struggle to pay bills as a result of the Coronavirus health crisis – both prepay and credit meter customers.

See full details on the Money Saving Expert page.

Suppliers will deal with issues on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing to do if you have to self-isolate or are struggling to pay your bill is to contact your provider straight away.

Remember, our free energy advice service is currently being delivered over the phone. To book an appointment please call 0300 365 3005 or email GreenDoctorsLDN@groundwork.org.uk
 

How do I keep my money safe?

We are being made aware of a number of scams as a result of the coronavirus. 

Below is an example of one flagged by the Dept. of Education. Please stay safe and vigilant.
 

I have had an income drop due to Covid-19. I’m struggling to pay my credit/store cards and loans- what can I do?

From 14 April the Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed that banks will be offering ‘payment holidays’ on consumer credit agreements including:

  • a temporary payment freeze on loans and credit cards for up to three months, for consumers negatively impacted by coronavirus
  • allow customers who are negatively impacted by coronavirus and who already have an arranged overdraft on their main personal current account, up to £500 charged at zero interest for three months
  • make sure that all overdraft customers are no worse off on price when compared to the prices they were charged before the recent overdraft pricing changes came into force
  • ensure consumers using any of these temporary payment freeze measures will not have their credit file affected.
At the moment this covers:
  • Credit cards
  • Store cards
  • Catalogue credit
  • Loans
  • Overdrafts
  • Doorstep lending
  • Guarantor Loan
  • Logbook loan.

It does not currently cover:

  • Car finance
  • Payday loans.

To get this payment break you should speak to your lender and ask for the support within the next 3 months.

I’m an international student, what help is out there for me?

NHS treatment for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is free of charge for everyone.

If you have paid the immigration health surcharge and your immigration permission has not expired, you continue to be entitled to free NHS treatment for other illnesses and conditions.

If you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you can use it to receive free NHS treatment, at least until 31 December 2020.

The Department for Education (DfE) has launched a helpline to answer questions about COVID-19 related to education.

Staff, parents and students can contact the helpline by telephone and email:
  • Phone: 0800 046 8687
  • Email: DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk
The helpline is open from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

You can also call the UKCISA Student Advice Line for advice and support on +4420 7788 9214 between 1pm and 4pm (UK time) between Monday and Friday, except for public holidays.

I’m employed and I’ve heard about furlough. What does this mean?

This handy video summarises it and has some top tips…

 

I’m employed but I’m unwell or having to self-isolate. What does this mean for my money?

If you’re well enough, your employer may allow you to work from home, if so your wages won’t be affected. However, if you’re at home and unable to work you could lose your salary. 
 
Depending on your employer and the contract you’re on, you may get sick pay. If not, you can claim statutory sick pay. The government has useful information on this.
 

Claiming sick pay

  • If you cannot work due to coronavirus, you’re eligible for Statutory Sick Pay from day one. This applies from 13 March 2020

  • Statutory Sick Pay will be paid to anyone staying at home (self-isolating) on government advice, not just those who are infected with coronavirus

  • If you need to provide evidence to your employer that you need to stay at home due to coronavirus, you can get it from the NHS 111 Online. You don’t need a fit note from your doctor.

Claiming extra support

  • If you‘re already getting help from your local authority for Housing Benefit or Council Tax support, let them know of your change to your income. The fastest way to do this is on their website.

  • If you don’t currently get support with Council Tax reduction (help towards paying your council tax) then contact your local authority website to see how you can get help. 

  • If you’re in work, claiming Universal Credit (UC), and are staying at home on Government advice, you should report this in the usual way via your online journal. If this means you’re working fewer hours, the amount of Universal Credit you receive will adjust as your earnings change.
If you aren’t getting help with housing costs, it’s worth seeing if you’re entitled to Universal Credit.  You can find out what you’re entitled to.

I’m self-employed- how do I access the Self Employed Income Support Scheme?

Full information about the Self Employed Income Support Scheme can be found here.  To make is simpler here’s a summary we hope will help.

Please note: Your Self-Employment Income Support payment won't affect past universal credit, but may affect it in the future. If you've claimed universal credit, and are now due a Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payment, don't worry, even though it's a payout for March to May, it won't impact the universal credit you've been paid for those months. However, it will likely reduce future payments. 

In some cases it may be worth delaying applying for SEISS by a week or two (which is allowed even if you've got an appointment) so that it falls correctly in your universal credit period. If you have any questions about this please ask to speak with your helpful Financial Inclusion Team. 

There are also some really helpful tips on Martin Lewis that can be found here.
 

About the Self Employed Income Support Scheme...

This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. This may be extended if needed.

Who can apply?

You can apply if you’re a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and you:
  • have submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-2019
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19.

I'm not eligible for a grant - what other help is available?

  • You can apply for a business interruption loan. The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is open to self-employed people and offers access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to six years.

    The Government could also give you a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest and fees on the loan.

    The scheme is now open for applications, and is offered by all major banks. More information.

  • You can defer your income tax payments. If you have income tax payments due in July 2020 under the self-assessment system, you can defer them until January 2021.

  • You can access universal credit in full. The Government has removed the minimum income floor to universal credit, and will also be boosting the standard allowance from 6 April - meaning a single person aged over 25 could get a standard monthly allowance of £409.89.

I’m employed but the business has closed due to COVID-19. What does this mean for my income?

Please speak to your employer to make sure they’ve applied to be part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

UK workers of any employer who is placed on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can keep their job, with the government paying up to 80% of a worker’s wages, up to a total of £2,500 per worker each month.

These will be backdated to 1st March and will be initially open for 3 months, to be extended if necessary.

Remember the payment will be net of tax and national insurance contributions as these will still need to be paid.

The 80% is calculated using the normal monthly salary, this won’t include commission or bonuses.

If wages fluctuate month to month due to either a zero hour contract or overtime then the payments will be based on either of the following and paid at 80% of the highest rate.
  • Earnings in the same month of the previous year. So if you earned £500 in March 2020 but £1000 in March 2019 then the payment will be 80% of the March 2019 payment
OR
  • An average of your monthly earnings for the tax year 2019/2020.
If you have been employed less than a year the payment will be worked out as an average of your monthly earnings for the period of time resident worked there prior to 28 February 2020.

I claim benefits, but I’m unwell or self-isolating. What does this mean for my money?

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  • If you receive benefits and are unable to attend health reassessments or jobcentre appointments, special arrangements have been put in place. 

  • If you tell DWP in good time that you’re staying at home on Government advice or have been diagnosed with coronavirus, you’ll not be sanctioned. 

  • If you’re claiming Universal Credit (UC) the Claimant Commitment, will be reviewed to make sure it’s still reasonable

  • If you’re staying at home as a result of coronavirus, your work search and work availability requirements will be removed to account for a period of sickness

  • If you’re already claiming UC and think you may have been affected by coronavirus, please contact your work coach as soon as possible. You can do this via your online journal, or call the UC helpline

  • The standard rate in Universal credit and Tax Credits will be increased by £20 a week for one year from April 6th, meaning claimants will be up to £1040 better off.
 
Jobcentre Plus staff are ready to support you if you’re required to stay at home.
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I have a face to face assessment scheduled and I’m worried about how I’ll get to it

Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for the next three months.

The temporary move, effective from Tuesday 17 March 2020, is being taken as a precautionary measure. This is to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus.

This guidance applies to you if you claim any of the following:
  • Personal Independence Payment
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Some Universal Credit claims
  • Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments also covers new claims to these benefits.

I need to make a new claim for Universal Credit and have no idea where to start!

Don’t delay making a benefit claim, even if you think you may be affected by coronavirus.

Contact us now, we can support you and prevent you getting into debt at the beginning of your claim.

You can apply for Universal Credit (UC) online. If you need to make an appointment, call the number you’re given when you submit your claim, and explain the situation. Jobcentre Plus staff are ready to support you if you’re required to stay at home.

If you need to claim because of coronavirus, you won’t be required to produce a Fit Note. If you’re affected by coronavirus you’ll be able to apply for UC and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a jobcentre. 

Universal Credit helpline:

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2)
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344 (choose option 2)
  • NGT text relay (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 328 5644
  • Welsh language telephone: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. Find out about call charges.

If you cannot download the form or use the phone, you can get a claim form from your local Jobcentre Plus. You can also get the form in an accessible format, for example, braille, large print or audio CD by calling the UC helpline.

For more information about any aspect of UC, including how to make a claim, visit the Universal Credit homepage

My employer has told me to take unpaid leave as the business is shutting, what does that mean for my income?

You’ll be able to claim Universal Credit from the day after your last salary.

For more help on how to do this see our question on claiming Universal Credit. 

I want to claim for Employment and Support Allowance, what do I do?

If you want to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) you won’t be required to produce a Fit Note. If you are suffering from coronavirus or are required to stay at home and want to apply for ESA, the usual 7 waiting days for new claimants will not apply. ESA will be payable from day one. 
 
To apply for ‘new style’ ESA, fill in an NSESAF1 claim form. You can either:
  • Download and print the NSESAF1 form
  • Call the UC helpline to get one through the post or by email

Universal Credit helpline

  • Telephone: 0800 328 5644 (choose option 2)
  • Textphone: 0800 328 1344 (choose option 2)
  • NGT text relay (if you cannot hear or speak on the phone): 18001 then 0800 328 5644
  • Welsh language telephone: 0800 328 1744
Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. Find out about call charges.
 
If you cannot download the form or use the phone, you can get a claim form from your local Jobcentre Plus.
You can also get the form in an accessible format, for example, braille, large print or audio CD by calling the UC helpline.
 
For more information about any aspect of UC, including how to make a claim, visit the Universal Credit homepage

I’m employed but the business has closed due to COVID-19. What does this mean for my income?

Please speak to your employer to make sure they’ve applied to be part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. 

UK workers of any employer who is placed on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can keep their job, with the government paying up to 80% of a worker’s wages, up to a total of £2,500 per worker each month.

These will be backdated to 1st March and will be initially open for 3 months, to be extended if necessary.

What about help from foodbanks and other community support?

There is lots of amazing help out there. Please speak to us and we can refer you to the support available in your area.

Details of local foodbanks can be found here.

There are also community groups like Little Village.

As you can imagine the provision and the way these donation groups operate is changing all the time. We’re doing our best to keep in contact with all the agencies and we’ll get the help to you as quickly as possible. 

I’m on a low income and need to pay for a relative’s funeral. What help is there for me?

The DWP has announced that from 8 April 2020 financial support will be available to meet the costs of funeral expenses such as coffins and funeral directors’ fees.

For families on benefits the support available will increase from £700 to £1,000.

Read more here on the government's website.