Coronavirus Financial Help & Rights
Mortgages & other debts, rental help, energy top-ups & more
The coronavirus pandemic has already fundamentally changed the way we live. It's an anxious and upsetting time, and while the primary concern is health, our financial wellbeing is also important. Many are worrying about paying their mortgages, rent and other bills. This guide runs through help for financial products and other bills.
Important: The info below is the best we have currently, but as this is a fast-changing situation we're updating this guide all the time. If you've a question that isn't covered below or in the other guides, please email it to us (we can't respond with personal advice but we'll try to add answers in these guides). You can also respond to the MSE Coronavirus Survey – we'll pass the findings to the Government to help inform its response to the outbreak.
In this guide
- Financial product help
- Help for renters – incl protection from eviction
- Home buyers and renters urged to delay moves
- Energy bill help
- Your rights on subscriptions and other bills...
- Some areas offering a council tax 'holiday'
- Struggling with water bills? Firms will help
- Life insurance should cover coronavirus
- Some mobile firms giving free data and calls
- Rebates for Sky Sports & now BT Sport customers
- Over 75s TV licence charges delayed
- Netflix and others are throttling streaming
- The contactless limit's rising to £45
- Some areas offering a council tax 'holiday'
- Warning – watch out for coronavirus scams
The Government's announced a strict lockdown across the UK
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled sweeping restrictions on public movement to tackle the spread of coronavirus, warning the public "you must stay at home".
You can now only leave your home for the following reasons:
- Shopping for essential items (eg, food). This should be as infrequently as possible and you should use food delivery services where you can.
- One form of exercise a day. A run, walk or cycle (alone or with members of your household).
- Any medical need. Including to collect a prescription, or provide care for or help a vulnerable person.
- Travelling to and from work. Only where you cannot from home.
The police will have the power to enforce these rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings of more than two people.
All shops selling non-essential goods, as well as libraries, playgrounds and places of worship, will be closed. Parks will remain open but gatherings are forbidden. Social events such as weddings and baptisms are also all cancelled – though funerals are excluded. For full info, see the Gov.uk website.
The entire financial landscape has shifted due to the coronavirus. We've seen the Bank of England undertake economic shock therapy and reduce the UK base rate twice in just over a week, taking it from 0.75% to 0.1%, a record low. And that therapy is needed, with many people worried about how they will be able to afford to pay their bills or just afford to live. Let's go through what you need to know, product by product...
If keeping up with your bills and food on the table may be a challenge, speak to your bank. On 17 March, banks agreed with the Chancellor that they will offer 'forbearance' (tolerance and help) on mortgages.
This means they all should offer those struggling a three-month 'holiday', allowing customers a temporary break from having to make mortgage payments during this time. (Though it's worth noting this is a voluntary agreement with banks – it isn't compulsory for them to offer mortgage holidays.)
If you are going to apply for a mortgage holiday, it's best to do it online where possible, as phone lines are likely to have huge backlogs.
How would this work in practice? Here's how it typically works. Let's imagine you have 19 years and three months left on your mortgage. For the next three months you wouldn't pay anything. Then when your mortgage repayments resume, the total you owe would be spread over the following 19 years – so you would see an uplift in future payments.
You will still be charged interest – but it's added to the total cost
It's worth noting that if you take a mortgage holiday you WILL still be charged interest for the time you're not making payments. But you won't have to pay it back immediately – it'll be added on to the total cost of your mortgage and factored into repayments when you start making them again.
Warning – mortgage holidays MUST be agreed with your lender
To take a mortgage holiday, whatever you do, don't just stop your direct debit or standing order. Any mortgage holiday MUST be agreed with your lender first. This means you need to contact your lender and make a formal agreement as to how long you wish your 'holiday' to last.
If you simply stop your payments without warning this will be recorded as a late payment, which will not only put you into arrears but will also likely affect your credit file (which could make it harder for you to access credit in future). Even if it's a struggle, make sure you keep paying until you can agree the holiday.
|Bank of Scotland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Increased monthly payments
||10 days||Phone / Online|
|Barclays||N/A – Barclays does not charge for late payments||Speak to lender||Yes||Longer mortgage term||9 days||Online|
|Coventry BS||Speak to lender||Yes||Yes||Flexible||Urgent cases prioritised||Online|
|Halifax||Yes||Yes||Yes||Increased monthly payments
|HSBC||Speak to lender||Yes||Yes||Speak to lender||7 days||Online|
|Lloyds||Yes||Yes||Yes||Increased monthly payments
|Nationwide||Speak to lender||Speak to lender||Yes||Increased monthly payments||5-7 days||Online|
|NatWest||Speak to lender||Speak to lender||Yes||Increased monthly payments||5 days||Online|
|NRAM||Speak to lender||Speak to lender||Yes||Increased monthly payments||10 days||Phone|
|RBS||Speak to lender||Speak to lender||Yes||Increased monthly payments||5 days||Online|
|Santander||Speak to lender||Yes||Yes||Increased monthly payments||10 days||Online|
|(1) Some lenders warn that your mortgage holiday may not take effect until the month after you apply.|
A few providers also gave us details of further measures they will offer mortgage-holders hit by coronavirus.
HSBC and First Direct said they would give customers the option to extend their mortgage terms or switch rate. HSBC additionally said it would let customers switch to an interest-only mortgage.
NatWest and RBS told us they wouldn't offer any of these options. We've asked the others for this info, and will update when we know more.
This is aimed at those who are financially struggling. You won't need to 'prove' that coronavirus has impacted your finances, however, to apply you'll need to be up to date with all of your mortgage payments already.
Lenders will have to check that taking a mortgage holiday won't make paying off the mortgage unaffordable for you later down the line.
For those already in mortgage arrears or financial difficulties, lenders will consider what other options they can offer you, but you're unlikely to be offered a mortgage holiday.
If unsure, speak to your mortgage lender.
You can usually do this online, and this is banks' preferred route as their customer support staff are overwhelmed. Our table above has the best way to apply for the big lenders. If you're not sure, check your lender's website - it will have details on there about the best way to contact them.
Make sure you make contact at the earliest opportunity if you know you're going to be in trouble – the more warning you give, (hopefully) the more breathing space you'll have.
In an emergency response to coronavirus, lenders are allowing homeowners who are up to date with mortgage payments to 'self-certify' when they apply for a mortgage holiday. This essentially means lenders won't need to do a thorough check on your finances, like they normally would when you remortgage – instead they'll rely on you giving an accurate representation of your financial status.
You can still get your lender to do a full assessment of your finances if you wish, however.
If you take a mortgage holiday, the way in which you repay those missed payments varies from bank to bank – though generally there are two options. You can:
- make up for the 'lost' payments by increasing your monthly mortgage payments in future
- or increase your mortgage term
However, your lender will typically decide what option is available to you and for many lenders, increasing your monthly payments is often the default.
An exception is Barclays, which told us that if you take a three-month mortgage holiday, then typically most customers would see their overall mortgage length extended by three months.
To get a rough idea of how much your future monthly mortgage payments will cost if you decide to take a mortgage holiday, try this useful calculator.
This shouldn't affect your credit score because it would be agreed in advance – no payment is expected for that month, so the account won't go into arrears. (We haven't had final confirmation of this from all banks, but major lenders such as Barclays, Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Halifax, Nationwide, NatWest and RBS told us if customers take a payment holiday it will not affect their credit file.)
Some mortgages are getting cheaper due to the base rate falls
Exactly what happens as a result of the base rate cut depends on what type of mortgage you have:
- Tracker mortgages: Here you'll get the full 0.65 percentage-point base-rate cut (from the two recent cuts combined), worth roughly £40/month per £100,000 of mortgage outstanding. Use our Mortgage Calculator to see exact savings for your situation.
- Variable-rate mortgages: Here you should see a cut, usually by the full 0.65 percentage points. See our lender-by-lender rate cuts table for amounts and timings.
- Fixed-rate mortgages: If you're on a fix, as the name suggests, your rate won't change during the fixed period.
Be aware some lenders have started withdrawing many mortgages from sale, making it harder for borrowers with lower equity or deposits to get a new deal.
For example, Halifax has temporarily pulled most deals it sells through brokers above 60% loan-to-value (LTV), both for purchases and people remortgaging, while Barclays has temporarily withdrawn the majority of its mortgage deals – those above 60% LTV – for purchases for new buyers.
Nationwide has also joined them, limiting new mortgages to 75% LTV for first-time buyers, homemovers and remortgagers – this applies through its broker and online channels. However, the limit doesn't apply for existing customers who will still be able to move home, remortgage or do a product transfer – provided they stay a Nationwide customer.
|Bank of Scotland||Yes||Yet to respond||Yes|
|Barclays||N/A – Barclays does not charge for late payments||No||No|
|Halifax||Yes||Yet to respond||Yes|
|HSBC||N/A||Yet to respond||Yet to respond|
|Lloyds||Yes||Yet to respond||Yes|
|Nationwide||Yes (if on payment holiday)||Yes||Yes|
|NatWest||No||No||Yes, for up to 3mths|
|RBS||No||No||Yes, for up to 3mths|
|Santander||Yet to respond||Yet to respond||Yet to respond|
|Bank of Scotland||Yes||Yes ('where responsible')||No|
|First Direct||No||Yes||Yes – tailored to individual need|
|Halifax||Yes||Yes ('where responsible')||No|
|Lloyds||Yes||Yes ('where responsible')||No|
|Nationwide||Yes (if on payment holiday)||Yes||Yes|
|Santander||Yes||Yet to respond||Yet to respond|
Of course, as we always suggest, if you are struggling to meet your debt repayments, and the help available won't get you through it, do seek non-profit debt-counselling help – they can guide you through what is needed.
Hundreds of thousands of credit card borrowers have been getting letters and emails – known as 'persistent debt' notices – asking them to pay more on their credit card or face losing it.
That's because under new rules from the financial regulator, if someone has been in persistent debt for 36+ months, usually only paying the minimum each month, lenders must offer customers a reasonable way to repay their balance. If a customer ignores or refuses the offer of an affordable repayment plan, the lender must suspend or cancel their card.
In light of the coronavirus crisis and challenges facing many credit card-holders at present, regulator the Financial Conduct Authority has now relaxed these rules and the deadline for customers to respond – and ultimately for cards to be suspended – has been extended until 1 October 2020.
See our Persistent Debt guide for full help, including whether you can transfer your debt to 0%.
What if I need to apply for a credit card or loan?
It's a tricky time to be doing this... here's Martin's view:
Martin: 'If you're in NEED of 0% credit, apply ASAP'
I've heard unconfirmed mutterings (though intuitively it makes sense) that credit card firms are already starting to tighten acceptance criteria, never mind the fact many people's incomes may be compromised. Therefore if you need to cut existing debt costs via 0% balance transfers, do it ASAP.
New borrowing is trickier – normally I'm anti-borrowing, unless for one-off needed, planned, budgeted for expenditure (in which case use our Cheap Loans guide).
Though right now I'm torn. It's understandable that in these unprecedented times some may want access to a cheap borrowing facility just in case. In which case 0% credit cards will fulfil that, but please be incredibly careful – only use in dire emergency (if you get one, lock it away and pre-define the criteria you'll allow yourself to use it in).
Important – credit card firms' call centres are very busy right now, so if possible try not to call. Lenders have told us their call centres are extremely busy and focused on dealing with existing customers, many of whom may be vulnerable. So if you do want to apply for a new card, it's best to do so online and avoid calling unless you have an urgent question, to help them prioritise.
Overdrafts – almost all providers are moving to 40% interest, but some banks have waived interest or added interest-free buffers
For weeks we've warned that overdrafts are the new danger debt – with interest rates double those of high street credit cards. This follows a change by regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which means that from 6 April this year, all banks must replace daily/monthly fees with a single interest rate to improve transparency.
It has succeeded – the new rates are transparently hideous. Yet it failed in its other aim, to boost competition. Almost every bank will soon charge about 40% – see full bank-by-bank overdraft changes.
These rate changes won't be reversed – but some banks have put in extra measures to help
While many are calling for the changes not to happen, the FCA's told us it has no plans to change the new rules, or the 6 April start date. And that's because more people will actually be better off or pay the same – though those worse off will often be much worse off.
The worst hit are often those with large, authorised overdrafts of c. £600+, who could see costs double.
Those who just occasionally dip into overdrafts, or only have small ones, will often find this new system cheaper if they used to have daily fees. Those with unauthorised overdrafts (ie, who bust their limit) will also pay less, as banks can no longer charge horrible £5 A DAY fees. You now pay the same rate for unauthorised and authorised overdrafts.
While a wholesale rethink isn't on the cards, there is help if you're overdrawn. We've rounded up what the big banks are doing here...
|Bank of Scotland||£300 interest-free buffer for 3mths||6 April|
|Barclays||Waiving all overdraft interest||27 March - end April|
|Clydesdale Bank||£500 overdraft buffer for 3mths if you're in hardship (1)||1 April|
|First Direct||No extra, but has a £250 0% overdraft as standard||N/A|
|Halifax||£300 interest-free buffer for 3mths||6 April|
|HSBC||£300 interest-free buffer for 3mths||26 March|
|Lloyds||£300 interest-free buffer for 3mths||6 April|
|M&S Bank||No extra, but has a £250 0% overdraft as standard||N/A|
|Nationwide||Waiving all overdraft interest if you're in hardship (2)||20 April - 1 July|
|NatWest||Delaying interest rate increases, max 19.89% rate||1 April|
|RBS||Delaying interest rate increases, max 19.89% rate||30 March|
|Santander||£350 interest-free buffer for 3mths||6 April|
|Virgin Money||£500 overdraft buffer for 3mths if you're in hardship (3)||1 April|
|Yorkshire Bank||£500 overdraft buffer for 3mths if you're in hardship (4)||1 April|
Co-op Bank, Monzo, and Starling have all told us they have no plans to offer wholescale changes to their overdrafts, though all say they are doing what they can to help customers struggling with charges on a case-by-case basis.
Forbearance is likely
The pressure being put on banks means that if you are in trouble, and you speak to them about your overdraft, they should look at providing alternative help, such as converting the repayments into a loan, or even freezing interest. Yet this is on a case-by-case basis.
For further help and information, see our Cut Overdraft Costs guide, which includes info on how to get your overdraft to 0%.
Like mortgages, the savings market has been thoroughly shaken up. Rates are likely to drop as we've seen massive base rate cuts from the Bank of England. But at the same time there have been moves to give people access to formerly locked-in savings if needed. Here's info on both:
There's still time to beat the UK rate cuts
Rates are holding up surprisingly well since the base rate cuts, though we don't know how long that will last for. So you may be able to get in ahead of the curve with fixed products, where once opened the rate is locked in. While there's always the slim chance rates may not fall (or even improve), fixing definitely gives you certainty.
Yet with fixed savings, you lock your money away for a set time for a set rate, though there are a few accounts that'll let you access the cash, usually for an interest penalty – so it's best to do this with money you're sure you won't need. See top fixed savings for your options.
Banks will allow you to access your fixed-rate savings
Normally if you've locked cash away in a fixed-rate savings account, you have to pay a penalty to get it out before the fixed term's up. Yet nine banks (Bank of Scotland, Barclays, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide, NatWest, RBS and Santander) have told us they'll waive penalties for existing customers affected by the pandemic who now need their savings to cover living costs.
It's worth noting though that with interest rates dropping, your money may well be locked away at a rate that's now impossible to get, so you should only do this if really needed.
No penalty-free withdrawals allowed from Lifetime ISAs
There are no changes planned to the current Lifetime ISA rules (which impose a 25% penalty if you withdraw money for any reason other than to purchase a home or retire). The only exception to paying the penalty to withdraw is if you're terminally ill. See the Lifetime ISA guide for full info.
'Markets are unpredictable, but day-to-day moves irrelevant to most'
With stocks and shares or pension investments, there are only two prices that count: the price you buy at and the price you sell at. Markets move up and down all the time, and you won't lose money until you crystallise by selling.
The markets have gone down – they may bounce back in a mild outbreak, or they may stay down for a long time if this becomes a long, systemic outbreak and hits the economy. Markets are unpredictable and there aren't any answers – but for most people (unless you are imminently about to sell or take your pension and convert your investment into cash), the day-to-day moves on the back of coronavirus are mostly irrelevant. It's only relevant if you're looking to crystallise or you need the money now.
Taking the money out right now may be a really good idea if the markets drop further, or may be a really bad idea if the markets recover. And just like always with markets, no one knows which of those two eventualities is going to happen. So unless you're someone who plays the markets, I would carry on with what I was planning to do anyway.
It's also worth checking whether you're receiving all the financial help with housing you're entitled to, which could come from benefits such as universal credit. The Government announced on 20 March that it's increasing universal credit and housing benefit so that the local housing allowance would cover at least 30% of market rents in the recipient's area. See the Government to boost benefits MSE News story for more.
The Government has also said landlords in England and Wales will need to give three months’ notice before starting eviction proceedings. It's introduced emergency legislation for this, which passed through the House of Lords on 25 March and should soon become law. (It's worth noting though that this change won't affect eviction proceedings already underway.)
Beyond this three-month point, you'll be expected to work with your landlord to establish an affordable repayment plan which takes your circumstances into account.
The Government has also said that existing protocols for social landlords dealing with rent arrears will be extended to include private landlords too, to "support engagement" between landlords and tenants and help them solve disputes. It will ask landlords to be compassionate and allow tenants to stay in their homes wherever possible – while associations representing local government and housing associations have already said that no social renter should be evicted due to coronavirus.
What's more, private landlords are also now eligible for a three-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties. Technically they needn't pass this on to their tenants, but morally they should and most will, so speak to your landlord if you need help.
Scotland’s emergency coronavirus legislation will also prevent private and social tenants being evicted for up to six months, by increasing the amount of notice the landlord needs to give before they can take steps to take over the property. We’re still awaiting news for Northern Ireland.
If you're currently living in university accommodation, you may wish to return home for your third term, particularly as most institutions have suspended face-to-face teaching.
Some universities such as UCL in London have said they will not charge accommodation fees for students who will not be living in halls in the summer term. Newcastle University has said that students living in university-owned accommodation will be released from contracts from 29 March provided they've followed university advice to return home, have emptied their room and returned keys.
Other universities haven't yet outlined clear policies, though. To see if you'll still need to pay your rent, check with your university accommodation provider directly.
Homebuyers and renters urged to delay moves
The Government has urged those with imminent house moves – both homebuyers and renters – to delay their moving date, while lockdown measures are in place to stop the spread of coronavirus. The lockdown is in place until Monday 13 April initially, and will then be reviewed.
Lenders have agreed to help homemovers who have exchanged contracts and agreed completion dates by offering mortgage extensions of up to three months where the move's been impacted by coronavirus.
UK Finance, the mortgage lenders' trade body, said lenders will be offering to extend mortgage terms by up to three months. You'll need to speak to your mortgage lender though to establish exactly that would work in practice, as this could mean either:
- keeping the terms of the existing mortgage offer and simply extending the offer expiry date
- pushing the back the start date of a mortgage deal, or
- extending the mortgage deal to expire three months later.
For more, read our homemovers to be offered mortgage extensions news story.
Unfortunately not. The British Association of Removers (BAR) has said its members should only complete any moves that are currently underway and immediately cancel or postpone where possible any moves that have not yet started.
The BAR told us you should be able to claim for any unfulfilled elements of the contact that you had with the removal firm. So if you have paid for removals that couldn’t go ahead because of coronavirus, you should get your money back. But if, for example, the packing had already been done, but then the move didn’t go ahead, you would not get back the cost of the packing element of the contract – just what you paid for actually moving.
If you are able to get through to your removal firm and get a refund or you hadn’t yet paid for removals but your move is still going ahead, then currently you can still hire vans for you to do the move yourself. This may change with any future Government announcements, but could be an option for those who are able in the meantime.
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Energy bill help, incl how to top up prepaid meters
Energy suppliers are offering some help to those who may struggle to pay bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – both prepay and credit meter customers.
The Government and energy suppliers have agreed to new emergency measures to help prepayment customers unable to top up during the pandemic, including posting cards loaded with emergency credit to those who are self-isolating, adding discretionary credit to your meter, and allowing you to nominate someone to top up for you.
Regulator Ofgem has also written to all suppliers, saying it expects them to "take proactive measures to support prepayment meter customers, including customers in vulnerable circumstances".
If you can't leave home to top up at your usual shop, Ofgem suggests you arrange for a trusted person to take your card and do it for you (it may need disinfecting first), and leave your meter box unlocked if it's outside your home.
And if you can afford it, and you're not self-isolating already, energy firms are encouraging people to try and top up a little more than usual each time to try and build up some credit.
Ultimately, suppliers will deal with issues on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing you can do if you have to self-isolate or are struggling to pay your bill due to coronavirus is to contact your provider as soon as you can.
Here's what the prepay energy providers have committed to so far (we'll update this table as we hear more):
Hasn't yet committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
If you're in isolation and you think you'll use up your balance and emergency credit, contact British Gas and it has said it'll find a solution on a case-by-case basis. See its FAQs.
|Call 0333 202 9802|
EDF says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home.
EDF has advised people who self-isolate to ask friends and family to help you top up. Where this is not possible, it says it can deliver 'preloaded' cards and keys if you need to self-isolate – this balance will then be collected back at a "suitable rate" later. See it's FAQs.
|Call 0333 200 5100|
E.on says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home or send an engineer to top up your meter.
It says if your electricity meter falls below 50p of emergency credit, or you're off supply for gas, it can either send a card or key in the post, or it will send an engineer round to top up for you. However, it advises to top up a little extra or asking a trusted person to help in order to prepare for self-isolation. See its FAQs.
|Call 0345 052 0000|
Hasn't yet committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
Npower has said it is looking at increasing emergency credit to £45 to help those self-isolating. It also advises topping up more than usual in advance if you can or asking a truster person to help. See it's FAQs.
|Call 0800 073 3000|
We've yet to hear back from Scottish Power – however it has published guidance on its website.
Scottish Power has advised people who need to self-isolate to ask a friend, neighbour or family member to top up for, and to add more credit to your meter than normal.
Call 0800 027 0072
|SSE||SSE says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home.
It's encouraging customers to keep at least 14 days' worth of credit on their meter, and says it can help by reducing any debt repayments people are making through the meter. See its FAQs.
|Call 0345 026 2658|
Hasn't committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
Ovo is advising people to ask friends, family or neighbours to top up for you – it urges you to disinfect your card before handing it to anyone else. It's also set up a dedicated team to help those in danger of losing supply. See its FAQs.
|Call 0330 102 7517|
Bulb says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home.
Bulb has advised people who self-isolate to ask friends and family to help you top up. Where this is not possible, it says you can pay online and a preloaded card will be delivered. See its FAQ.
|Call 0300 303 0635|
|Robin Hood Energy (3)||
Hasn't yet committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
It's advising customers to top up meters more than usual, if you are able, and will always provide an "emergency support function" for prepay users. It also told us it's working up a number of plans to help anyone struggling to pay or top up. See its FAQs.
|Call 0800 030 4567|
|Co-op Energy||Co-op is now run by Octopus Energy, which has told us it is working through its guidance and will update us.||Call 0800 093 7547|
|E Energy||We've yet to hear back from E Energy.||Call 0333 103 9575|
|Green Network Energy||Green Network Energy has told us it is currently working through its guidance to customers and will update us.||Call 0800 520 0202|
|Green Star Energy||
Green Star Energy says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home.
It has advised people who self-isolate to ask friends and family to help you top up. Where this is not possible, it can arrange for a preloaded card to be delivered to you. See its FAQ.
|Call 0800 012 4510|
|Omni Energy||Omni Energy says it can post top-up cards or keys loaded with credit to your home..
It advises those who can top in advance and build up credit on the meter, or ask a family member or friend to take their key or card to the shop for you. It also says it has emergency credit to maintain supply.
|Call 0113 457 3219|
Hasn't yet committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
Utility Warehouse has advised its customers to top up a bit extra – it recommends having at least two week's energy on your meter. It also suggests identifying a trusted third-party who can pick up your top up card or key and take it to a store in case you're unable to leave your home.
|Call 0333 777 3247|
Hasn't yet committed to sending out top-up cards or keys loaded with credit.
However, Utilita's main focus is smart prepayment, which allows people to top up remotely. If you've a non-smart meter, it advises to top up more than usual or ask a friend or family member to help. It also says it has called all its customers over the age of 80 and advised them of how to top up.
|Call 0345 207 2000|
|(1) Whether you're on a standard credit meter or a prepayment meter, energy suppliers are urging you to contact them via email or live chat first, where possible, with any non-urgent queries, to keep phone lines free for those with serious issues or in vulnerable situations. (2) Ovo prepayment customers are supplied under the brand 'Boost'. (3) Advice also covers anyone supplied by Angelic Energy, Beam Energy, Citizen Energy, Ebico, Fosse Energy, Great North Energy, The Leccy, RAM Energy, Southend Energy, White Rose Energy and Your Energy Sussex.|
The Government has also moved to help those on standard credit meters that are struggling.
Most importantly, your supply won’t be cut off – disconnections of standard credit meters have been completely suspended. What’s more, all energy suppliers have agreed to provide support to anyone in financial distress, which can include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused.
Exactly what help suppliers will offer will depend on your individual circumstances, but here's what measures firms have told us they can offer some customers:
|British Gas||Yes||Yes||-||-||-||See FAQs or call 0333 202 9802|
|EDF||Yes||-||Yes||-||Yes||See FAQs or call 0333 200 5100|
|E.on||Yes||-||-||Yes||-||See FAQs or call 0345 052 0000|
|Npower||Yes||-||Yes||-||Yes||See FAQs or call 0800 073 3000|
|Scottish Power||Yes||-||Yes||-||Yes||See FAQs or call 0800 027 0072|
|SSE||Hasn't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on case-by-case basis||See FAQs or call 0345 070 7373|
|Bulb||-||-||Yes||-||Yes||See FAQs or call 0300 303 0635|
|Co-op Energy (1)||Hasn't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis||See its statement or call 0808 164 1088|
|Octopus Energy||Hasn't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis||See its statement or call 0808 164 1088|
|Ovo Energy||Hasn't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis||See FAQs or call 0330 303 5063|
|Shell Energy||Yes||-||Yes||-||-||See FAQs or call 0330 094 5800|
|Small suppliers||Though some have committed to things such as not increasing direct debit payments or offering more flexibile payments, most suppliers haven't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis.||See supplier contact details|
|Whether you're on a standard credit meter or a prepayment meter, energy suppliers are urging you to contact them via email or live chat first, where possible, with any non-urgent queries, to keep phone lines free for those with serious issues or in vulnerable situations. (1) Co-op Energy’s response is handled by Octopus Energy, which now runs the brand.|
Do a whole of market comparison via our Cheap Energy Club to see how much you could save by switching – many can save over £340/yr by switching from the average Big Six standard tariff.
Need extra support? Sign up to the Priority Service Register
Vulnerable customers (see who counts below) can also sign up to the Priority Services Register with their supplier or network operator. If you're on the register, you'll be eligible for certain free services, including:
- Advanced notice of planned power cuts
- Priority support in an emergency (such as alternative heating facilities if your supply is interrupted)
- Get communication sent by your supplier shared with someone you've nominated (such as family or carer)
- Arrangements to ensure it is safe for you to use a prepayment meter if you have one. If not, you may get a credit meter for free or get your meter moved for you
- Meter reading services at regular intervals, if you or a nominated person can't take a reading
You sign up to the Priority Services Register if:
See the energy regulator Ofgem's website for more info on the Priority Service Register.
- You're of pensionable age
- You're disabled or chronically sick
- You have a long-term medical condition
- You have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs
- You're in a vulnerable situation (ie, you can't top up prepayment due to injury, or mental health conditions that may impact understanding of bills)
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Your rights on other household bills and subscriptions
As coronavirus hits the UK it's likely to have a huge impact on many aspects of everyday life – here are a few more key need-to-knows:
Martin: 'We need to show patience, compassion and forbearance, even to companies, at this time'
I wanted to say something that's at odds with MSE's original founding motto – "a company's job is to screw you, our job is to screw them back" (since then it's morphed to "cutting your bills, fighting your corner").
Right now, even in our commercial relationships, we should try not to be adversarial. We want banks and firms to show people patience, compassion and forbearance. Yet equally, when our entire economy and way of life is under threat, we must try to return it.
Many firms are struggling to cope, change policies, or even just get their staff settled in new ways to work – so be patient.
And for those who can afford it, even if you've a right to a full refund for a ticket, travel or more, if the firm is in a struggling sector and asks if you'll take vouchers instead, it's worth considering. That may just be what stops that firm from collapsing and their staff from losing their jobs, which results in more money taken out of society and a vicious cycle. Of course, be mindful of how you'd be protected (eg, by your card provider) if it did go bust.
Struggling with council tax? Speak to your local authority – you may be able to take a council tax 'holiday'
Many councils are offering help to residents who are struggling to pay their council tax as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is being done on a council-by-council basis, so for full details you’ll need to contact your local authority. But to give you a flavour of what some councils are offering:
- You may be able to defer payments – ie, take a council tax 'holiday'. For example, Telford and Wrekin Council is offering all its residents a two month “holiday” from council tax payments. Anyone can ask to suspend their council tax payments for April and May and instead begin payments from June. Meanwhile Manchester City Council says in some cases you can arrange to defer payment until July.
Bear in mind though that you'll still have to pay the full amount over the year, so when you start paying again your bill each month will be bigger than normal.
- Some councils are suspending enforcement action. For example, Wandsworth Borough Council has said “no enforcement or recovery action will be initiated against people who fall behind with their council tax payments".
- If you're struggling to pay, ask for support. For example, St Albans City and District Council has said that “residents whose income has been adversely affected by the coronavirus crisis may be entitled to council tax support”, which could mean a significant reduction on your bills if you're struggling financially.
If you live in Northern Ireland, your rates bill won’t be issued to you on 1 April as usual, but in June – though the bill will still cover the period between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. If you pay by monthly direct debit, this will be updated automatically to collect payments between June 2020 and March 2021.
If you’re in arrears with your rate payments, no new action will be started to recover the debt until after the current crisis has passed. If you’ve already had recovery action started against you, this won’t be cancelled but it will be suspended for the time being and you won’t be pursued for the debt until after the crisis.
You can also check if you’re entitled to any support with paying your rates – which could include Low Income Rate Relief, the Rate Rebate Scheme for people on universal credit or Housing Benefit Rate Relief. There’s full info on the NI Direct website.
Water companies in England and Wales have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus crisis. The companies are encouraging households with immediate or short-term issues paying their bills to get in contact so that they can receive help.
All water companies are halting debt collection visits. You may still get a call, but they won’t be sending anyone round or applying for any new court orders during the current crisis.
The best thing to do if you need help is to contact your water company or check its website for an online form. All companies offer some kind of help, which may include:
- Offering payment breaks or payment holidays
- Reassessing your current payment plan
- Simplifying the process to get extra help
- Offering social tariffs which can reduce or put a cap on what you pay, or wiping arrears if you can agree to a certain number of regular payments
- Offering alternative payment methods
We’re working on a company-by-company rundown of what’s available and will update this shortly.
Life insurance and income protection insurance should cover coronavirus – critical illness policies won't
Whether or not you're protected for claims relating to coronavirus depends on what kind of insurance you have:
- Life insurance and income protection insurance SHOULD cover coronavirus. If you have a life insurance or income protection policy in place you should be covered for any claims related to coronavirus. This is because these policies are usually based on declaring any existing conditions – but if you have an existing policy, you couldn't have declared coronavirus as a condition before now so that won't be an issue.
It is still possible to take out a new policy to protect yourself. If you are looking at taking out a new policy – either life insurance or income protection – it is likely you'll be asked additional questions, such as whether you've already tested positive for Covid-19, have had symptoms or have been told to self-isolate. If you have, an exclusion may be applied.
- Critical illness cover WON'T apply to coronavirus. If you have critical illness cover, you will not be covered for Covid-19 claims, as it isn't considered a critical illness. If, however you developed a serious illness/condition as a result of coronavirus, that could be considered as a possible claim.
- Getting accident, sickness and unemployment cover is now tricky. For those seeking accident and sickness cover, it is still possible to get it but many insurers are no longer offering unemployment cover as an option, or no longer accepting new applications, or imposing additional exclusions (ie, claims may not be made unless you have been unemployed for at least a couple of months from the start date of your policy).
For full help on the ins and outs of this kind of cover, see our Life Insurance guide.
Mobile phone users are being offered extra data and free calls by some firms to help them keep in touch during the pandemic. Here's what we know so far:
- iD Mobile is offering free unlimited calls to anyone aged 70 and over that doesn't already have them as part of its plan, until Mon 20 April.
- Sky Mobile says all its mobile customers (both handset contract and Sim-only) will get an extra 10GB data boost for free until April. This will be applied to your 'Piggybank' automatically.
New. Vodafone is offering free unlimited data for 30 days to some pay monthly customers (both on contract and Sim-only deals).
It will be automatically upgrading customers who are flagged as vulnerable in its systems and will send out a text to confirm this has been done. For other pay monthly customers, it’s open to the first 500,000 who claim it via the VeryMe reward scheme on the My Vodafone app. The data will be added to your account within seven days of redeeming, and you’ll receive confirmation via text.
Vodafone says if network capacity allows, it hopes to offer even more customers unlimited data in future.
- Virgin Mobile says all its its 'Pay Monthly' customers, though not those on Sim-only deals, will get unlimited minutes to mobile and landline numbers, plus a 10GB data boost for one month.
We've contacted every major mobile provider and will update this guide when we get more info on what others are doing.
Sky also says that existing customers with its Sky Talk broadband and landline calls package will get free calls to UK landlines at any time of the day from Saturday 21 March to the end of April 2020.
With most live sport suspended, many who pay for digital TV subscriptions have asked if they can get a refund.
Sky Sports won't let you leave your contract penalty-free, but it does now allow you to 'pause' your subscription – which means you can stop paying for the time being. You can do this online – log in to your account and go to the Pause Sky Sports page.
While your account's paused, you won't be charged but you will still have access to all 11 Sky Sports channels. As soon as live sports returns, Sky says it'll reinstate your subscription – you won't need to do anything. The pause doesn't affect the overall length of your contract – so if you're midway through an 18-month contract and pause for two months, your contract end date will remain the same.
If you're a Virgin customer with Sky Sports, you will also be able to pause your subscription shortly, though full details haven't been announced yet. Virgin says it'll give an update soon on when exactly this option will become available, and we'll update this guide when it does.
For the same reasons as Sky Sports above, due to the lack of live sport, BT has now said its customers can get a bill credit for one month of BT Sport. This will cover both the basic subscription and any HD add-on.
It says anyone who pays for BT Sport via BT should go to a special BT Sport page and fill out the relevant form to do it, though you can instead choose for BT to donate that credit to the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal. BT stresses you should not call it unless urgent as its call centres are incredibly busy dealing with vulnerable customers.
The BBC has announced it is delaying charging some over-75s for TV licences until August, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
A rule change meaning that free TV licences for the over-75s will be restricted to those who receive the pension credit benefit was set to come into effect on 1 June 2020. But it has now been delayed until 1 August 2020.
The BBC says it will "keep the issue under review" as the situation continues to evolve.
See our BBC delays introduction of over-75 licence fee charge news story for full information.
To help alleviate demand on the broadband network, a number of streaming services are lowering what's known as their 'streaming bitrate', in order to reduce the amount of data needed to watch something online. Bitrate is doesn't affect the resolution you watch in (HD, 4K etc) – it's more to do with the amount of data streamed per second, so usually a higher bitrate makes very fast-moving images appear less blocky.
Netflix is one of the firms doing this – it's cut the data used by 25%. Some people pay up to £6/mth extra for Netflix's Premium subscription, which promises Ulta HD (4K) streaming. If that's you, Netflix says you shouldn't notice any difference in quality as it usually streams at a higher bitrate than is required anyway – it therefore says it won't be offering any customers on a higher-cost package a refund.
However if you do notice a problem or unhappy with the change, you're not locked into a contract and so can downgrade your package or cancel your subscription at any time -see more info in our 18 Netflix Hacks.
Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ & Apple TV+ are also lowering the streaming bitrate by 25%. Again this won't affect the resolution of the image so you'll still get HD or 4K (where available). Meanwhile YouTube will now be playing videos in standard definition by default – though you can still manually select HD if you wish.
With increased pressure on broadband networks, Sony PlayStation has warned that downloads of games may appear “somewhat slower or delayed” during this period. It’s not clear how much slower they'll be, but as some games can be up to 100GB in size, the change may noticeable for some. Sony's said there won't be any impact on multiplayer gaming.
Microsoft Xbox hasn't yet announced any limits – we'll update this guide if and when it does.
The amount you can spend on a card in a contactless transaction is going up, from £30 to £45. This was in the pipeline anyway, but it's been brought forward in a bid to encourage contactless transactions and help combat the spread of coronavirus, minimising the number of times you’ll need to touch a keypad to pay.
It’ll start rolling out at retailers on 1 April, but it won’t apply at every retailer from that date as the changes will take time to be rolled out.
For transactions over £45, you can pay in the normal way with chip and PIN. Or, if you'd prefer to avoid touching keypads entirely, you may be able to use contactless payments on your smartphone, as these don’t usually have an upper limit.
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Warning - watch out for coronavirus scams
Low life scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus to try to defraud people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.
Shockingly, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has already identified over 100 reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, with victims' losses totalling almost £1 million. The majority are online shopping scams where victims have tried to buy products such as protective face masks and hand sanitiser from fraudsters. There have also been over 200 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails designed to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive information.
A common tactic used by scammers is to send messages purporting to be from research groups linked with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, or the World Health Organisation. Some claim to be able to provide a list of people infected with Covid-19, which links to a malicious website or asks the victim to make a payment in Bitcoin.
Other common phishing emails include sending articles about the coronavirus outbreak with links to fake company websites, or sending details of investment schemes which encourage people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.
Action Fraud says you can protect yourself by:
- Being vigilant for scam messages. This includes not clicking on any links or attachments if you receive a suspicious message, and not responding to any unsolicited messages or calls that ask for personal or financial details.
- Taking care when shopping online. You should always do your research if you’re buying from a company or person you don’t know and trust, possibly asking a friend or family member for advice first. If you do go ahead with an online purchase, you should use a credit card if possible for extra protection.
- Protecting your devices from threats. This includes always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from new threats.
See our 30+ Ways to Stop Scams guide for more info on keeping yourself safe from fraudsters.
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