Coronavirus Checklist from Martin Lewis

Scan your eyes over this list of 15 items to ensure you’re not missing out on something you’re eligible for.

1) Returning to the office – are you due £6 for each week you worked from home? For the last five months, millions have had to work from home, yet gradually office work is returning for some.

For those required to work from home, if costs such as energy or heating increased, you’re due some money. Full details and help claiming in my Working from home – claim tax back blog, but in brief…

You’re allowed to claim £6/wk tax-free from your employer to cover extra costs. Yet as most employers don’t pay that, you can instead claim a tax break worth up to £2.40/wk. As you don’t want to claim that too often, the perfect time is when you’re returning to the office (or annually if you always work from home).

2) ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ rumbles on at scores of chains and independent restaurants – see who’s still giving discounts. The official Govt 50% off up to £10/person discount is over, but many chains and restaurants, from Gaucho to Pizza Hut, Bill’s to Bistrot Pierre, are trying to keep the buzz going with their own DIY discount versions. See our Eat Out to Help Out-ish discounts guide.

  3) Are you one of possibly millions missing out on the 2nd self-employed grant wrongly thinking ‘it’s not me’? You’ve a month left.   800,000 people eligible for the 1st self-employment grant didn’t claim it by the time it closed. That figure’s likely far larger for the 2nd one, which is open now, and closes on 19 Oct.

Do read our full help on the 2nd Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant, which includes details on who’s eligible. Yet in brief, you can be due up to a max £6,570, made up of 3mths’ worth of up to 70% of your average trading profits (if that’s under £50,000/yr) over a period of up to 3yrs. As it’s a grant you NEEDN’T PAY IT BACK, though it is taxable.

To claim, you need to declare your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus since 14 Jul. This doesn’t need to mean a total disaster – it could be, say, a reduction in trade, staff illness or extra PPE costs. And the grant is binary – you get the full amount you qualify for or nowt. Read our Can you declare your business is affected by coronavirus? guide, which takes you through it.

4) Greece (or some of its islands) joins the list of quarantine countries – refund rights if your travel plans are scuppered. In the last week, we’ve seen Greece enter the quarantine quagmire. Those returning to Scot from anywhere Hellenic must quarantine for 14 days, while in Wal and, from today (Wed) Eng, those returning from a selection of Greek islands must do so too.

For more help, see which of the top 15 holiday destinations you can currently travel to – and whether you’ll need to self-isolate on your return. And if this scuppers your holiday plans, see our quarantine refund rights info on what you can do (sadly, in some cases people will be left substantially out of pocket).

5) Struggling with no or a low income? Don’t assume there’s no help – check what you’re entitled to. The key benefit available is universal credit, a means-tested benefit to help low earners meet basic living costs, which can be worth £1,500+/mth for some. Recently a few people have said to me either “I won’t get that” or “I tried a year ago and didn’t get it”. That’s a dangerous assumption.

The criteria and payout rates were improved to help during the pandemic, so it’s at least worth checking out. As eligibility criteria are complex, use our 10-min Benefits Calculator tool to see if you likely qualify and read our Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits guide.

6) Cheap energy deals may’ve hit lockdown lows, but now they’re up – sort it soon, many can save £200+/yr. Wholesale energy prices (what providers pay for energy) are on their way back up from recent lows, just as the weather’s set to start turning colder.

Back in Jul we warned cheap fixes were disappearing due to this, and indeed back then the cheapest price from firms with decent service was an average £787/yr – now it’s over £40 higher. So if you haven’t sorted your winter fuel bill, use this Cheap Energy Club link to compare specifically the    cheapest deals with decent service  . If you want price surety, select a fixed rate.

7) Furlough pay is still a MINIMUM 80% of your salary up to £2,500/mth, plus pension contributions. Since Apr, 9.6m roles have been furloughed – this is where your job’s put on standby and you get up to 80% of your salary, up to £2,500/mth.

From this month though, the Govt is only covering 70% of salaries and employers are being asked to pay the rest, plus national insurance and pension contributions. Yet you should still get the 80% – do ensure your employer’s paying you what you’re due.

Plus if your employer asks you to work, it should be giving you full pay for the hours you do, and you only get furlough pay for the rest of your normal hours that you don’t do (if any). Check your employer’s playing by the furlough rules in our detailed guide.

8) Employer ‘making’ you go back to the office – do you have rights if you don’t want to or can’t go back? It’s always best, if possible, to start by being open and honest with your employer to see if a middle ground is possible. But if it’s genuinely made things ‘Covid Secure’ and insists you return to work, you’ve few rights.

Max Winthrop of the Law Society’s Employment Law Committee told us: “If you’re healthy, have no special risks through an underlying condition and can travel safely to and from the office, refusing to work is usually difficult, and could lead to a disciplinary, including dismissal.”

Ruby Dinsmore, employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, added: “If, for example, you usually travel by heavily-populated public transport, see if flexible working or travelling out of peak times works for both you and your employer.”

However, if you’re medically vulnerable or feel you could be in serious danger by returning, then you’ve increased rights to appeal to your employer. For more help, this Citizens Advice Q&A is a good place to start.

9) Worried about redundancy? Whether it has happened or is possible, tool up on your rights. A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed that sadly firms planned over 300,000 redundancies in Jun and Jul. If you’ve been made redundant, or you’re worried your job may be at risk, brush up on your rights. Our Redundancy Help guide includes your rights to pay, notice and holiday, and more.

It’s also worth checking the Govt’s  Job Help  site as it has 10,000s of vacancies. Plus check out top tips, info and support from other MoneySavers in the   Employment, Job Seeking & Training   section of the MSE Forum.

  10) On universal credit? Open a Help to Save account for a 50% SAVINGS BOOST even if you’ve no money to put in it now.    A tiny silver lining to the sad fact there are 100,000s more people claiming universal credit (UC) is that many more are now eligible for the Help to Save scheme – designed to help build financial resilience and a savings habit. It lets many on UC save up to £50/mth in it and, crucially, at the end of 2yrs you get a 50% bonus of the max you had in it.

For example, if you save £50 for 10mths – so you’ve £500 – then withdraw all the money, you’d still get a £250 bonus after 2yrs. Better still, you can OPEN IT NOW WITHOUT PUTTING CASH IN (though do save in it if you can) and then continue to use it, even if you’re no longer on UC. Full help and eligibility info in our Help to Save guide.

11) Self-employed / got a small business and need support, even for your income? Bounce back loans available until 4 Nov.  Small businesses, including limited companies, affected by coronavirus can apply for one-off £2,000-£50,000 loans. The loans are INTEREST AND REPAYMENT-FREE for the first year.

Plus, especially important for those who’ve missed out on other help, in many cases they can be used to support your income (I know this is a loan, not a grant, so not the same, but my aim’s to show you all the options). As things currently stand, they’re available till 4 Nov. Full info, including eligibility and how to apply, in our Bounce Back Loans guide.

12) Short of cash and got a Lifetime ISA (LISA)? You can withdraw some or all of it penalty-free until Apr. All wannabe first-time buyers aged 18-39 should consider saving in a top Lifetime ISA, as the state adds an unbeatable 25% on top of what you save. So put the max £4,000/yr in, and that’s £1,000/yr added for free.

Yet withdraw money for any reason other than buying a qualifying first home or once you’re 60+, and you’d normally have to pay what’s effectively a 6.25% penalty. To help people access funds during coronavirus, that’s now effectively been removed until 5 Apr 21, so if you need the money now you can use it.

PS: I keep writing ‘effectively’, as the way the penalty works is complex. We explain in full in the guide linked above.

13) 16-24s jobhunters – register your interest for Kickstart.   The Kickstart scheme has just launched for employers to sign up to (not in NI). It means the Govt foots the bill for firms giving places to those aged 16-24 who’re claiming universal credit. Big names such as Tesco and Network Rail have already said they’ll sign up.

It’s expected jobs will be available in Oct. To get one, you’ll need to be placed in it by your Jobcentre work coach, so talk to them and register your interest now. Full info in  Kickstart Help.

14) Told to self-isolate by NHS ‘Test and Trace’? Your rights. If you’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus, you may called and told to self-isolate for 14 days. If so and you can’t work from home, here’s what you’re due…

– Employee earning an average £120+/wk. Statutory sick pay of £95.85/wk, though if your work normally offers more generous sick pay, you may be able to get that.

– Employee earning under £120/wk. If you already claim universal credit, log in to your online journal, update your details and your award should be boosted in line with your drop in earnings. If you’re not already claiming, apply for universal credit, and if you need cash urgently, request an ‘advance’ payment.

– Self-employed. You can apply for universal credit as above, though what (if anything) you get depends on your costs, savings and income.

For info if it stops you going on holiday, see self-isolation travel insurance help.

15) Need help? We’ve six major coronavirus guides, from travel to life in lockdown. In many ways I’ve only just scraped the surface, yet the team and I have compiled a mass of information to help you over these last five pandemic months. And it’s all in these guides…

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

Coronavirus universal credit & benefits, what are you due?

Coronavirus life in lockdown, incl MOTs, food & entertainment

 


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