In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government is boosting the welfare system with almost £7 billion to protect UK workers' incomes during this time.
If you are a UK-based citizen and have recently been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19, read this guide to find the resources and support you need to stay afloat during this period of lockdown and economic uncertainty.
UK Government to Pay up to 80% of Wages:
The UK government has pledged to pay up to 80% of the wages for employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19. This will cover up to £2,500 per month in wages for those employees who are being kept on by their employer but otherwise are unable to work. The UK government hopes this will prevent workers from being laid off due to the virus.
The government has also stated that this wage subsidy will apply to workers who have already been laid off because of COVID-19, so long as they are brought back into the workforce and granted a leave of absence instead. Call your former employer to negotiate your return to work.
The wages cover will be backdated to the beginning of March and last for 3 months, but chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that he will extend this cover if necessary. The scheme will be run by HMRC and will make its first grants to businesses by the end of April.
If you are being placed on sick leave and will receive Statutory Sick Pay from your employer, government legislature has scrapped the 3-day waiting period so that you can receive payments from the day you stop working.
Wages Cover Key Facts:
- Laid-off workers should be brought back into the workforce and given a leave of absence instead.
- It will cover March to May's wages with a coverage of up to £2,500 a month.
- It only covers workers who are on the pay-as-you-earn system.
- Public sector workers are not covered as they are paid by the government.
- Employees who can work from home should be paid as normal by their employers and the coverage for any extra running costs and expenses should be discussed.
- The self-employed and freelancers will receive up to £2,500 a month from June, back-dated to March.
UK Workers Claiming Benefits:
UK residents claiming benefits do not have to attend Jobcentre appointments for the next three months, starting from March 19, 2020. You will still receive your benefits but you should not go to the Jobcentre in person unless expressly directed to do so, such as for collecting your Payment Exemption Service vouchers.
Eligible individuals can apply for benefits online. When applying for Universal Credit, you will be given a number to call for a telephone interview with a work coach. Workers who already claim Universal Credit can contact their work coach if they think they have been affected by COVID-19.
The Department for Work and Pensions has temporarily suspended all face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits. If you already have an appointment for an assessment, you should not attend. Your assessment provider will contact you to discuss the next steps.
If you have made a claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Universal Credit, or Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) but don't have an appointment date yet, your assessment provider will contact you to let you know what will happen next. You don't have to do anything else.
If you are already receiving PIP, ESA, Universal Credit, or IIDB you will continue to receive your benefits as normal. DWP will continue to take new claims.
From the 6th of April, the government will increase the Universal Credit standard allowance and the Working Tax Credit basic element for one year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of the annual uprating.
From April, the Local Housing Allowance will be increased to 30% of market rents. This is applicable to new or existing Universal Credit housing element claimants and to existing Housing Benefits claimants.
The self-employed who claim Universal Credit and are self-isolating or are ill due to COVID-19 will not be subject to the Minimum Income Floor while they are affected. Requirements for the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed from April 6 and will last for the duration of the outbreak.
Thursday, March 26, the UK government finally released measures to aid self-employed individuals, as well as freelancers, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This emergency aid measure includes a taxable grant of 80% of the self-employed individual's average monthly profits over the last 3 years with a cap of £2,500 a month.
This grant will run for 3 months and is open to people with trading profits of up to £50,000 and who make the majority of their income from self-employment. Furthermore, only those who are already self-employed and have a tax return for 2019 will be able to apply. However, the first payments won't be made until June, although they will be back-dated to March.
The 7-day waiting period has been temporarily removed for those claiming the Employment and Support Allowance. The new-style ESA is applicable to those who are claiming or who have made a claim to Universal Credit and will be awarded on its own or together with Universal Credit. However, if you get ESA and Universal Credit together, your new-style ESA payment will be deducted from your Universal Credit payment, so you will not necessarily get more money.
Key Facts for Claiming Benefits:
- Jobcentre appointments are temporarily suspended but you can apply for benefits online.
- All face-to-face assessments for health and disability-related benefits have been temporarily suspended.
- The Universal Credit standard allowance will increase by £20 per week for 1 year.
- The Working Tax Credit basic element will increase by £20 per week for 1 year.
- The Local Housing Allowance will be increased to the 30 percentile of market rents.
- Requirements for the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed from April 6 for the duration of the outbreak.
- The 7-day waiting period for Employment and Support Allowance has been temporarily suspended.
Scotland's Job Seeker's Allowance:
If you are currently unemployed and living in Scotland, you can claim jobseeker's allowance (JSA), or unemployment benefits. The JSA is a benefit that is paid to those who are unemployed but available for work. It includes a contribution-based jobseeker's allowance and income-based jobseeker's allowance.
Scottish workers can claim JSA for up to 6 months if they have worked in the past and paid a certain number of national insurance contributions. If you are homeless, you can claim JSA and if you have no fixed address, you can claim a reduced JSA.
You will not be able to claim JSA if:
- You are 16 or 17 years old, unless you are in circumstances of severe hardship.
- You are a full-time student, unless you are responsible for a child.
- You are working for more than an average of 16 hours a week.
For more information on claiming JSA, call the Jobcentre Plus telephone line on 0800 0 55 66 88 or on the textphone line 0800 023 48 88 for the hearing impaired.
Emergency Lifeline in Scotland:
Scotland is boosting the Welfare and Emergency funding with a £350 million grant. This cash injection includes:
- £70 million to a food fund to help older people and families who won't be able to rely on free school meals.
- £50 million to a wellbeing fund to help charities, homeless people, and those in fuel poverty.
- £40 million to a community fund to help the groups that are fast-growing to support people in need.
- £50 million to meet the demand for council tax reduction and social security.
- £20 million for charity finances.
- £25 million in reserve for changing demands.
Resources for Music Creators and Professionals Affected by COVID-19:
The Recording Academy has set up a relief fund, MusiCares for music creators who have been affected by COVID-19. They have also gathered resources for these professionals. These resources include:
How to Boost Your Mental Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic:
1. Call for help.
HMRC has set up a helpline to support freelancers and the self-employed who have been financially affected by COVID-19. This helpline will be available Monday to Friday from 8 am to 8 pm and on Saturdays from 8 am to 4 pm. You can contact the helpline on 0800 0159 559.
2. Contact a mortgage lender.
Mortgage lenders are offering 3 month holidays, depending on your financial situation. Contact your lender to see if you qualify, but be aware that you will still pay interest and make up the repayments in the future. As for right now, new emergency laws mean that no one will be evicted for falling behind on rent payments during the COVID-19 outbreak.
3. Work online.
If at all possible, transfer your work online. However, if it is not possible for you to work or deliver your service online, don't try to stick with your industry. Consider looking for a "survival job", such as delivery driver, factory worker, or supermarket worker.
4. Support your neighbours.
You can give your spirits and mental well-being a positive boost by joining online communities and social networks and seeing what you can do for your neighbors. On the opposite side of the coin, you will also be able to spread the word that you need work and get some help from your neighbors yourself. Being active on social media will also help you to spread your network and remain positive through being proactive.
5. Use this time proactively.
Improve your skills with online courses, spend time with family and loved ones, take stock of your life, and maybe even see if you can change the way you work when the COVID-19 outbreak is over. Engage in self-care and don't spend too much time taking in unnecessary news content, which can be detrimental to your mental well-being.
What should I do if I was laid off because of Coronavirus?
If you have already been laid off because of COVID-19, you should contact your former employer and negotiate being brought back into the workforce and placed on a leave of absence instead. Your employer will then be able to access the wage cover from the government by the end of April.
What benefits can I apply for if I've been laid off because of COVID-19?
If you have been laid off due to COVID-19, you can contact your former employer about rejoining the workforce and receiving the government wage cover. Otherwise, you can apply for the Universal Credit, which will be increased for one year, or the Employment and Support Allowance, which is now available from day 1, temporarily suspending the 7-day waiting period.
Scottish workers can apply for the Jobseeker's Allowance if they are now unemployed but have worked in the past.
What can freelancers do during the Coronavirus outbreak?
- Call HMRC for help on 0800 0159 559.
- Contact a mortgage lender for a 3-month mortgage holiday.
- Transfer your work online or look for a "survival job".
- Join online communities and social networks to support your neighbors, grow your network, and receive support yourself.
- Improve your skills with online courses, evaluate the way you work for future improvement, and engage in self-care.