Covid cash - what’s left?
IN ENGLAND, the government has lifted almost all measures designed to check the spread of covid-19. While the government wants us to pretend that the pandemic is over, the SARS-COV-2 virus is refusing to co-operate and covid-19 cases continue to rise. Of course, the government's declaration of victory justifies winding down financial support for people affected by the pandemic.
There may still be money to support businesses hit by covid-19. As a freelance you are of course a "business" and can try to claim from your local authority. See below.
The following is our best effort at a running summary of what support is still available to freelances whose income is affected by covid-19.
If you spot something missing, please email email@example.com now. First, follow these links:
- Household Support Fund
- Local support for businesses
- If you need to self-isolate - tough, mostly.
- Loans, mortgages and rent
- Universal Credit and other benefits
1. Household Support Fund
The Chancellor announced on 23 March an additional £500 million for a "Household Support Fund". This is on top of £500 million announced on 30 September 2021 - the day from which the government cut Universal Credit payments by £20 per week.
The money is managed by local councils. Each sets its own conditions. The first slice expired on 31 March 2022. Local authorities were due to return any of their allocation that was unclaimed on that date. So our advice must remain: if you are going to apply, do it now.
On 31 March we still find no details of, for example, the new deadline. The London Borough of Lewisham, for example, says "we are still awaiting details of this funding".
4 April 2022 A government statement announces that the Household Support Fund will now run until the end of September. Watch for updated advice below.
This lack of information is par for the course. The first time round, local authorities were left without any details of what the government actually proposed they do until 7 October. Full guidance was not published until 11 November.
A reader informs the Freelance that we are the only outlet to record what a shambles the government has made of the Household Support Fund, other than themj.co.uk - a journal for local authority chief executives.
By the pricking of our thumbs, the Freelance predicts that civil servants are as we write laboriously re-branding the Fund as support for households hit by energy bills - so that everything is all Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's fault, and not that of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, oh no.
To see what your local authority (council) offers, go to its website.
We checked an arbitrary sample of local authority websites that showed up in a Web search, several times starting on 9 November 2021 and most recently on 31 January 2022. For example:
- 1 April 2022: Essex County Council seems to have decided that the government will be logical about it all: it says here "We are waiting for further information from the Department for Work and Pensions about the new fund from 1 April. Until then you can still get support.".
- The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham offered free school meal vouchers and payments for emergency living expenses to residents who are on a low income or unemployed or in receipt of certain benefits. On 31 March 2022 it declared that "A reduced Hardship Scheme is being considered by the Local Authority and may be available later in the year..."
- The London Borough of Westminster announced that it was using its allocated funding "to provide free school meal vouchers for all eligible children in the borough over October half-term..." A decision on further spending was made on 24 November - but we still found nothing about how to apply on its website on 4 December. Over to journalists covering the Borough to find out more.
- The London Borough of Bromley offered grants for food, utilities and essential items including boiler repairs, broadband and warm clothing - for those living in the Borough, or who have been sent to temporary accommodation elsewhere by the Borough, who are receiving support from certain agencies. On 31 March 2022 we found a notice that applications had "closed due to heavy take up".
- The London Borough of Haringey has a Haringey Support Fund. Applications are open to those already on "qualifying benefits" or who declare income of less than £350 per week after tax for an individual. On 31 March 2022 it implied that the scheme closed at the end of March.
- All we find - even on 4 December - from Tower Hamlets is this expression of frustration in a paper to a committee. On 31 March 2022 we found a limted Residents' Support Scheme giving priority to: those experiencing domestic abuse; families with young children; older people; people with longer term illnesses; people with disabilities; people with mental health needs; and households with a pregnant person.
- The London Borough of Croydon may be administering grants under the generic emergency support scheme. On 31 March 2022 it announced that "Due to demand, the application process for the government's Household Support Fund is now closed."
- The London Borough of Ealing now has a form for voluntary organisations to apply to distribute grants and has allocated some to existing local welfare assistance. Update: "If you make an application after 31 March and you do not qualify for a payment, we may reject your application but we will provide you with advice..."
- On 26 November the London Borough of Wandsworth announced a Council debate the following week and directed residents to Crisis Assistance.
- The London Borough of Lambeth has a Household Support Scheme for residents who receive certain benefits. It "provides in-kind support, such as vouchers, wherever possible, rather than cash grants".
- The London Borough of Hackney issued a press release saying "The Household Support Fund grant will not be enough to help everyone in need, so Hackney is also teaming up with food charities on a fundraising drive to help feed residents over winter." We now think you apply to the Discretionary crisis support scheme.
- In Islington, we think you go to the Resident Support Scheme
- In Lewisham, try Community Connections Lewisham and see Household Fund - as noted, the council is waiting for details of an extension.
2. Local support for businesses
Some local authorities may still be offering "local support for businesses" and as a freelance you are of course "a business".
If you are in England see the guidance on Additional Restrictions Grants. These grants are completely discretionary. Local councils have the freedom to determine the eligibility criteria. The government expects them to help businesses which - while not legally forced to close - are nonetheless severely impacted by coronavirus restrictions.
For Scotland, start by investigating Funding for businesses affected by Omicron control measures. The Creative Freelances Fund closed on 23 January 2022, to be replaced with the Hardship Fund for Creative Freelancers, also now closed. In Northern Ireland the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme has closed: see Support Your Business.
3. If you need to self-isolate
Tough. Payments for those requred to self-isolate ended on 24 February 2022 with the repeal of the requirement to self-isolate. Freelances who work regular shifts and are ill may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay - see below - though this sneaky Regulation says you are not unable to work solely by virtue of self-isolating.
If you are in England and need practical help while self-isolating, check the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, which invites you to call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week). Some sources say you need to be referred to this programme: your GP or NHS 111 can do this.
4. Loans, mortgages and rent
A Recovery Loan scheme was launched on 6 April 2021. In the October Budget it was extended until 30 June 2022. It is now available only to small and medium enterprises.
The Scheme turns out to include four kinds of finance:
- Term loans between £25,001 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to six years;
- Overdrafts between £25,001 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to three years;
- Asset finance between £1000 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to six years; and
- Invoice finance between £1000 and £2 million per business, repayable over up to three years.
The conditions are that your business is trading in the UK and:
- is viable or would be viable were it not for the pandemic;
- has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic; and
- is not in "collective insolvency proceedings".
The government will guarantee 70 per cent of these loans, with the lending institution bearing the rest of the risk. No personal guarantees will be taken on loans up to £250,000.
See the British Business Bank for a list of 23 lenders.
At launch on 6 April 2021 NatWest was offering interest rates ranging from 7.33 per cent for one-year loans to 9.90 per cent for six-year loans and RBS was offering the same rates. On 6 September 2021 these rates had fallen to 6.16 per cent for one-year loans and 7.06 per cent for six-year loans. On 4 December a typical rate from both appeared to be 5.84 per cent for one-year loans.
At launch, and still on 4 December 2021, meanwhile, HSBC was offering 4.49 per cent for loans up to and including 3 years and 4.99 per cent for all loans over 3 years. Most others do not publicise rates up front on their websites.
So do shop around, do check current offers and do take qualified financial advice before taking out a loan.
Government small business "bounce back loans" could be used to support your income. Applications for these closed at the end of March 2021, as did those for a Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
For the record, bounce-back loans were for amounts between £2000 and £50,000. They were interest- and payment-free in the first year, and at a very low 2.5 per cent fixed annual interest after that - and are repayable over ten years. Also, you could take payment holidays on these loans, or periods when you pay only the interest, of up to six months.
Loan payment deferral
Lenders must offer ominously-named "tailored help" - see, again, excellent MoneySavingExpert.com advice. The statutory payment holiday provisons expired at the end of March 2021.
Those who rent can ask their landlord to discuss deferral.
Housing charity Shelter said in June 2020 that the government must change the law to prevent a "tidal wave of homelessness". This remains true, the Freelance believes.
On 15 July 2021 the Welsh government opened a Tenancy Hardship Grant for private rented sector tenants. Those who do not receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit housing payments and have built up 8 weeks or more of rent arrears between 1 March 2020 and 31 Decenber 2021, due to covid, can apply to their local authority. The Freelance commends this step to the other nations, though we do note that it coincided with the end of a ban on evictions. The Scottish government offered interest-free Tenant Hardship Loans - but applications closed on 31 December 2021.
5. Universal Credit and other benefits
It may be worth trying to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at £99.35 a week - a £3 increase effective from 6 April 2022. On 21 February 2021 the government announced that from 24 March 2022 Statutory Sick Pay will be available only from the fourth day of illness.
Everyone left out by the measures reported above - and who does not already claim another benefit - can apply for Universal Credit (UC). There are massive backlogs in the UC system - one that the Freelance believes was designed in the first place to deter and delay claims.
The UK government ended the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, introduced early in the pandemic, at the end of September 2021. On 16 September 2021 it was reported that Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, had written to the UK government pointing out that the Universal Credit cut is incompatible with Britain's obligation to protect its citizens' rights to an adequate standard of living. But no...
Warning: The BBC reports people who were receiving Working Tax Credit having it cancelled when they started an application for Universal Credit. They did not even complete that application, because they were concerned that their savings would make them ineligible. So if you receive Working Tax Credit or any other "legacy" benefit - take great care. The government later updated this advice page to reflect this: "even if [your Universal Credit] claim is not approved it will affect your tax credits if you claim them, and may affect other benefits".
Especially if you expect your income to be seriously reduced for some months, we strongly recommend that before you apply for a new benefit you use the moneysavingexpert.com benefits calculator to check what the effect will be.
The "monthly standard allowance" for Universal Credit (UC) fell to £324.84 for a single person over 25 - and due to rise to £334.91 on 6 April 2022. You should get more if you have children, have a disability or "need help paying your rent".
In response to coronavirus and pressure from trades unions, the government waived the "minimum income floor" (MIF) - the level of monthly earnings that UC simply assumed.
Regulations coming into effect on 31 July 2021 provide that, until 31 July 2022:
(3) The Secretary of State may continue to apply the MIF easement... but only if it appears that the trade, profession or vocation carried on by the claimant remains adversely affected by the outbreak of coronavirus disease, and not for more than two consecutive assessment periods on a single occasion and not for more than six assessment periods in total.
(4) The Secretary of State may, if satisfied that economic conditions have sufficiently improved, determine that the MIF easement is no longer to apply to any claimant.
An "assessment period" is currently defined as one month. These regulations appear to give the Minister complete discretion to change the rules whenever she wishes. She of course delegates her power to "apply the MIF easement" to UC officials.
Only those who have illnesses or disabilities that affect their ability to work can get ("old style") Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This is £74.70 a week for the over-25s, due to rise to £77.00 on 6 April 2022.
You may be able to claim New Style Employment and Support Allowance with, or instead of, Universal Credit, depending on your National Insurance record. This is available for those who are ill or have a health condition or disability that limits their ability to work. You can also apply for New Style ESA if you cannot work while you are self-isolating because of coronavirus (covid-19) and you are not currently getting Statutory Sick Pay.
What about savings for tax purposes?
The NUJ and sister unions pressed for the rules on savings affecting eligibility for Universal Credit to be relaxed for the duration. Instead, we got an accounting clarification. To quote moneysavingexpert.com again: "We've checked with Department for Work & Pensions, who confirmed that while they'd expect business savings to be in a business account, nevertheless 'if someone has money in their personal account to be used for business purposes, it won't be counted towards their capital'."
If your household has more than £6000 of savings that are NOT provably earmarked for such purposes, your UC entitlement starts to reduce. While you have £16,000, you get nothing. It would seem that, if you need to claim Universal Credit, you should simply declare the savings which are "truly personal".
We continue obsessively to refresh the list of published Regulations looking for details. As we do so, we fancy we hear the scritch of quill pens as the clerks frantically try to put their masters' pronouncements into something resembling legal language.
Claims and advice
Discussion and lobbying
- here, updated to 23 March 2022;
- here, updated to 12 January 2022;
- here, updated to 9 November 2021;
- here, updated to 16 September 2021;
- here, updated to 29 July 2021;
- here, updated to 31 May 2021;
- here, updated to 19 April 2021;
- here, updated to 15 February 2021;
- here, updated to 22 January 2021;
- here, updated to 2 November 2020;
- here, updated to 23 September 2020; and
- here, updated to 18 May 2020.