Coronavirus Financial Information

Click on the links for more information from Martin Lewis:

Coronavirus employees’ help, incl furloughing rights
Coronavirus self-employed & small ltd co help, incl income scheme
Coronavirus finance & bills help, incl mortgages, energy & TV

Coronavirus universal credit & benefits, what are you due?

Coronavirus travel rights, incl refunds & insurance

Coronavirus life in lockdown, incl MOTs, food & ents

New. Coronavirus financial FAQs – 53 commonly asked Q&As

The 19 NEW coronavirus financial NEED-TO-KNOWS

1) LOCK IN super-cheap fixed energy deals to save £300+/yr and take advantage of historically low oil prices.  The global sump slump meant that for a day last week, staggeringly the US oil price was negative – they couldn’t sell it, so instead they were having to pay to have barrels stored.

This continuingly, unthinkably low oil price feeds into switchers’ prices for gas & electricity. They’re at their cheapest for about 3yrs. Grab a cheap FIXED deal now, and you lock in today’s super-cheap rate, so it can’t rise…

Our three TOP-PICK 1-YEAR FIXED energy deals

Savings are based on the avg Big 6 price-capped tariff (which 50%+ are on) for typical £1,126/yr usage. As YOUR winner depends on use and region, links go via our Cheap Energy Club comparison to give specific results and MSE £25 dual-fuel cashback (which you don’t get direct).

– Cheapest fix, save £352/yr: The GNE Spring Sunrise V4 1yr fix is for new dual-fuel and elec-only customers. Service rating is good at 54% ‘great’. (There’s one cheaper fix, but we exclude it due to a v poor service rating, though it does appear in comparisons.)

– New. Cheapest big name fix, save £343/yr: MSE Blagged. The E.on Fix 1 Year Exclusive April 2020 fix is only at this low price via our Cheap Energy Club. It comes with 100% renewable elec, and is available for new dual-fuel or elec-only customers (sadly existing E.on customers can’t get it). You need to agree to have smart meters fitted if you don’t already – installed for free once lockdown’s over.

– New. Cheap big name fix & ‘free’ boiler cover, save £335/yr: The British Gas Energy & Boiler Cover May 2021 fix is also 100% green elec. It’s available for new dual-fuel customers (sadly existing BG customers can’t get it). It comes with a year’s boiler cover included (this normally costs £30/yr, cancel it after the year if you want to avoid that). You don’t need to have/get smart meters.

These tariffs are for normal billed meters only (you can do a prepayment energy comparison instead though) and don’t include Northern Ireland (instead use NI Consumer Council’s comparison).

These prices are seriously cheap, though of course there’s always a chance they get cheaper. Switching is no big deal, it’s the same gas, same elec, same safety – the only changes are customer service and price. Your supply isn’t cut off as part of the process and no one visits your home. See our switching FAQs for more help.

2) Working from home? Claim tax back on additional expenses. We’ve had a huge response since I first blogged about this. If your employer requires you to work from home, and that increases your costs, eg, heating and electricity, you’re entitled to claim something back. See my  claim tax back for working from home blog.

3) How to try to beat the Ryanair refund trap. Last week I told you we’d reported Ryanair to regulator the Civil Aviation Authority and Trading Standards as ridiculously, passengers who’d jumped through the hoops to claim cash not vouchers for cancelled flights were… sent vouchers anyway.

This week we’ve been working through ways you can get money back, including asking card providers, as Kim did: “I got £896 back from Barclays. They asked a couple of questions and checked with supervisors. It was refunded within the hour.”  See Ryanair refund tricks.

4) Beware mortgage payment holiday ERRORS – it shouldn’t add more than £50/mth. I’ve had some panicked questions, from people who have been told their mortgage repayments after a 3mth coronavirus payment holiday ends will be doubled or even quadrupled – that’s bananas. It can only be an error, so contact the lender.

I’d typically expect £5-£20/mth to be added to your costs to make up for the missed payments, but about £50/mth is possible, for those with a big mortgage, high interest or not long left of the term. It’s worth everyone using a mortgage holiday calc & checking what’s reasonable.

5) Got travel insurance you’re sure you won’t use? Cancel for a refund. If you’ve an annual travel insurance policy, and are sure you won’t use it, some (not all) major insurers such as Axa, Churchill and Direct Line are offering pro-rata refunds. Tracy told us on Facebook: “Didn’t occur to me after I got my holiday deposit refunded – just checked and they will refund premium in full. £107, thanks.” See  travel insurance refunds.

PS: Some private medical insurers are promising rebates too.

6) Small biz owners – are you eligible for a new loan worth up to £50,000? While we don’t normally cover biz finance – it’s not our expertise – just a note that this week’s major announcement was new 100% state-backed biz loans up to £50,000, available whether you’re a sole trader or a limited company. Not technically put in place to support your personal income, but they can be used for cash flow, which in effect will do that.

7) British Airways now allowing you to cancel future bookings in return for a voucher – think carefully before accepting. British Airways is allowing anyone who has a flight booked up until 31 July 2020, which hasn’t yet been cancelled, to cancel it for free and claim a voucher, valid for 2yrs, for its value, to be used on future bookings.

It’s important to be aware, if BA cancels a flight, that you’re legally due a full refund. Yet if you voluntarily agree to a voucher for an uncancelled flight, while unconfirmed yet, it’s likely you lose your right to a refund. So if you want cash, you’re likely better off to hold on and see if it cancels.

Now of course BA is our flag-carrying airline, and the Govt is unlikely to let it fail. So hopefully these vouchers have value, and BA does need support – the firm is talking of 12,000 potential redundancies (which sadly brings into sharp focus the trade-off between individuals’ pockets and employment / the economy).

Therefore for BA loyalists who can afford to, taking a voucher is a decent thing to do. Plus if you may choose not to travel anyway, even if the flight’s on and the Govt’s travel advisory changes, it gives flexibility.

But as they’re price-based vouchers, not vouchers for identical flights, there’s no certainty you’ll get a decent deal, so you could be better off flying with another airline, in which case financially at least, cash wins. See BA cancellation help for more.

8) Furloughed? You’re due 80%+ pay, NO LESS – and they CAN’T ask you to work. I’ve had a number of questions on this. So let me be plain, if your employer furloughs you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, it must pay you at least all the money it receives, ie, 80% of salary and the minimum pension contribution.

Equally, furloughing means you don’t work. If your employer tells you to, that is a breach of the regulations (though it can ask you to train – if it’s non-revenue making).

If either of these has happened, first have a polite word – it may just be a confusion. Though as a last resort, you can anonymously report it to HM Revenue & Customs’ fraud department.

9) Don’t pay a fee to get holiday refund cash off your credit card. Those who have received holiday refunds get it returned to the payment method used. This can often mean being £1,000s in-credit on credit cards. Many people have worried that they’ll pay the usual 3%-ish fee to pay this into their bank account – yet those are money transfer  fees, for shifting debt.

They shouldn’t apply if you contact your bank and request a ‘refund of credit balance‘ – then it should be free.

10) Self-employment scheme UPDATE: The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will provide grants for qualifying self-employed people financially impacted by coronavirus. Those eligible will be contacted in May with details of how to apply; the money will come in early June. Here are a couple of queries you’ve had that we’ve got answers to…

– What’s the EXACT cut-off threshold? Those with average profits under £50,000 for tax years 2016 – 2019 get support (see how the averaging works). Some close to the limit have asked exactly where the cut-off is, ie, is £50,000 in or out? We’ve had it confirmed, average profit up to and including £50,000.00 is eligible – £50,000.01 isn’t.

And yes, this is a hideous cliff-hanger drop-off, which means a family of two £45k earners both get it. A family with one £50,001 earner doesn’t.

– Self-employed income must be 50%+ to qualify – what counts as income? It will add up total income from property, dividends, savings, pensions and more – full info in Am I eligible for self-employed income support?

11) Car, van and bike finance and buy-now-pay later 3mth payment holidays now IN FORCE. Last week, we told you of the proposals. Now, since Mon, the regulator has put them in place…

– Motor finance 3mth holidays available on request. Whether for a car, van or motorbike, if you’ve a PCP, leasing or HP deal and are struggling to pay due to coronavirus, you can ask to defer payments for 3mths – this also means they can’t repossess your car. More in car finance help.

– Pawnbroking, buy-now-pay-later and rent-to-own 3mth payment holidays on request. Pawnbrokers also won’t be allowed to sell your goods, nor can rent-to-own providers repossess them during the payment holiday. See full credit help.

With all these, remember the interest still racks up, so only do it if you really need to. If you’ve applied for help in these sectors before and have not been offered this, now it’s a right, ask again.

12) Payday loans 1mth payment AND interest holidays. Again, new rules from regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) that came in on Mon mean you can ask for a 1mth payment holiday and, crucially, the (usually hideous, outrageous) interest won’t rack up. If you doubt you’ll be able to afford to pick payments back up after that, let it know, and it’ll need to consider how to make it easier. Full info in payday loan help.

13) Supply teachers – your firm may be able to furlough you on full pay rather than just minimum wage. I’ve been working on this for a couple of weeks, there’s a small chink in the armour here, but not much. See my new supply teachers’ help info.

14) When’s ‘too late’ to apply for a mortgage and other payment holidays? If you don’t need a payment holiday, don’t do it – the interest still adds up. Yet many are worried if they don’t grab it now, and things get worse, they won’t be able to get one later. But all the official FCA schemes let you apply up to 3mths after they launched (and if this horror carries on, this may be extended), so here are the deadlines:

– Until at least 17 Jun: Mortgage payment holidays
– Until 9 Jul: Credit & store cards, personal loans, catalogue debt
– Until 27 Jul: Car finance (PCP, lease, HP), pawnbroking, buy-now-pay-later, rent-to-own, payday loan

15) Signed up to an IVA? Payment holidays/reductions now available. Individual Voluntary Arrangements are a formal debt solution for those with large debts to pay off. If your ability to pay has been impacted by coronavirus, you can now ask for a payment holiday of up to 3mths, or a reduction in monthly payments of up to 25%. See full What if I can’t pay my IVA? info.

16) Should I pay the balance for my overseas summer holiday?  This is a big decision for many who have paid deposits for trips and are currently being asked to pay the remainder or another instalment. Sadly, there is no right answer here – all I can do is help you weigh it up. More in holidays booked with a deposit help.

– If you pay up: We hope you’ll go ahead and have a wonderful holiday, but there’s a very plausible chance that may not happen. If it’s a package hol and the firm cancels, you’re due a full refund. If the holiday’s available but the Foreign Office is still warning against all but essential travel, provided you got travel insurance before they stopped covering coronavirus, you can likely claim. There are risks though…

1) If restrictions lift but you still choose not to travel, you’re not covered.
2) Some travel firms are making it difficult to get refunds for cancellations and only give vouchers.
3) Sadly, the travel industry is under an existential threat, and many firms risk going bust. If it’s a package hol, check if you’ve ATOL or ABTA protection so you would get a full refund if the operator collapsed. If not, you’d be reliant on chargeback or Section 75 protection from your card provider. That should help, but nothing is 100% certain.

– If you don’t pay up. Then you’re the one essentially cancelling the holiday, not the firm, so you’d likely lose the deposit. Even then, if the deposit is small and the balance large, and you think you’re very unlikely to travel, taking this hit may be an easy option.

Unfortunately, there’s no correct decision here without a crystal ball, so do what makes you feel most comfortable, and if it’s in the balance, maybe factor in the impact on the travel firm too.

17) Increased funeral costs help. Hard to write, but those on certain benefits (eg, universal credit) can now apply to receive a £1,000 payment – rather than £700 – to help with costs such as funeral directors’ fees, a coffin and flowers for their loved one’s funeral.

It’s part of the broader funeral expenses payment, which helps with essential costs such as burial/cremation fees and travel. The costs are recoverable from the deceased person’s estate if they’ve left one. Full info in funeral costs help.

18) Booked a UK holiday with Hoseasons, Sykes Cottages or others – are you due a cancellation refund? While customers of some UK holiday firms, such as Center Parcs, are getting full refunds, some with others, including Hoseasons and Sykes Cottages, are upset that they’re often being refused refunds and are only offered rebooking or vouchers instead.

We’ve checked out your rights here, and I’m afraid they’re not clear-cut (unless you booked via a package holiday) and depend on the contract’s exact wording. We do have some help to try though – see UK holiday-booking refund rights for a full step-by-step guide.

19) Going on maternity leave? Rule changes mean your maternity pay isn’t impacted by furlough. Statutory maternity pay for the first six weeks is 90% of your standard pay. New rules came in this week that mean if you go on mat leave after 24 Apr your standard pay for statutory purposes (not if they give you more than that) must be assessed on normal earnings rather than furlough pay – so you won’t lose out. The rules similarly help those who qualify for maternity allowance instead. See maternity furlough help.

If you went on leave beforehand, while furlough can legally impact it, as it’s done on an assessment of the prior 26 weeks’ income, it’s likely to only have a small impact.

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