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Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help

Help if you're struggling to pay mortgages & other debts, plus rental help, energy top-ups & more

Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live. While the primary concern is health, our financial wellbeing is also important. Many are worrying about paying their mortgage or rent, to say nothing of trying to keep up with payments towards other debts and bills. This guide runs through what help's available, including the newly announced proposals to extend the availability of payment holidays on mortgages and other consumer credit.

Important: If you've a question that isn't covered below or in the other guides, please email it to us (we can't respond individually but we'll try to add answers in these guides).

In this guide

The entire financial landscape has shifted due to the coronavirus. We saw the Bank of England undertake economic shock therapy and reduce the UK base rate twice in just over a week in March. And we saw lenders scrambling to help customers who'd lost their income, offering payment holidays on loans, mortgages and credit cards, plus widespread help for those overdrawn. 

It was economic shock therapy that was needed. Many people were worried about how they would be able to afford to pay their bills, or just afford to live. But the main broad-brush payment holiday help schemes are now more limited, and those who have had payment holidays are being moved on to "tailored" help. 

We've split this guide into two main parts:

  • Help with credit products – this covers products such as mortgages, credit cards, loans, overdrafts and car finance, as what's available for them is similar, despite the differences in the way these products work. The help's the same because they're all regulated by one body, the Financial Conduct Authority, which has set guidance for firms on what help they should offer.
  • Help with other household bills – here the help is much more dependent on what the bill is, and what the various regulators involved have asked firms to do. 

We hope this is helpful, but let us know if you think we've missed something. 

What help's available if I'm struggling to pay my mortgage, credit card, loan, insurance or other debts?

Regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has set out a series of rules for lenders to follow to help customers who are still struggling to make repayments.

Most will be able to take six months of payment holidays with few questions asked. However, once their payment holidays end, if they're still in difficulties, the lender needs to offer tailored support based on their customers' individual circumstances. 

While the support available will mean similar things across a broad range of products, there are a few nuances depending on which product you need help with. Scroll down, or use these links to skip to relevant sections:

  1. Help if you're struggling with mortgage repayments

    image of a calendar with three months crossed off

    On Saturday 31 October, hours before the initial set of mortgage payment holiday help schemes were set to run out, the UK Government announced that mortgage payment holiday applications would be extended.

    Regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) did a quickfire consultation, then confirmed the following measures. So, if you're struggling with your mortgage due to coronavirus, here's what help's available from your bank or building society:

    • Borrowers who've not yet had a payment holiday will be able to request one up until 31 March 2021. The FCA chose the March date to align payment holiday help with other coronavirus help measures, such as furlough. Generally, you'll be given a three-month payment holiday when you first apply, though you'll be able to resume payments earlier if you don't need that long. 

    • Borrowers who've already had or are on a payment holiday will be able to 'top-up' to a total of six months of payment holidays. In general, payment holidays are given in three-month tranches, so for most people, you'll get an initial three-month payment holiday, and then another three months (whether or not these are taken together).

      Yet, if up to now you've only had, say, a two-month payment holiday, you'd be entitled to another four months to top up to the six-month limit (though the lender has to give a maximum of three months at a time, so you may need to take the three months, then ask for an extension for the final month). 

    • If you're on your first payment holiday and it ends after 31 March 2021, you'll be able to extend it. While 31 March is the deadline to apply for new payment holidays, if you're still on your first and it takes you past the deadline, you'll be able to extend it. However, all payment deferrals need to end by 31 July 2021, so if you get in to financial trouble in the new year and want to benefit from the full six months of payment holidays, you'd need to apply for your first payment holiday before your February mortgage payment is due.  

    • You'll still be charged interest during the payment holiday. This means you'll likely end up paying more overall. So it's best to do this only if you need to – if you can pay, it's best to keep doing so.

    • You can take partial payment holidays if you can pay something towards your mortgage. This is better than a full payment holiday if you can make the payment, as less interest will rack up. Again, the deadline to apply for a partial payment holiday is 31 March 2021.

    • Borrowers who've already had six months of payment holidays and still need help will be offered 'tailored support'. Your lender should contact you to discuss this. Read more about the tailored help you could be offered. 

    • Your first six months of payment holidays WON'T be reported as missed payments on your credit file, but lenders can still find out about them. Usually if you miss a payment, the lender reports that to credit reference agencies. If you then apply for credit, other lenders will be able to see the missed payment. Yet, when you agree a payment holiday with your lender, it's reported as if the payment has been made (assuming you weren't in arrears before the payment holiday.

      But it's worth knowing that even if it's not on your credit file, lenders can still find out about the payment holiday in other ways - for example, they can see your mortgage balance isn't going down - and can use that information to help their decision when you next apply for credit.

    • Your lender won't be able to repossess your home for non-payment while you're on a payment holiday. The only exception is if you agree to the repossession. However, lenders can apply for possession orders and hearings before that date, they just won't be able to enforce any order made until February at the earliest. In general, lenders aren't likely to do this if you were up to date with payments before your payment holiday.   

    If you're struggling to make mortgage payments and need help, check what your lender's doing.

    Should I take a mortgage payment holiday?

    Up to six months without paying your mortgage sounds like a no-brainer. Yet these are actually far from it. Martin has a simple rule for payment holidays...

    'If you NEED one, take it, but ONLY take it if you need it'

    That's because, while a payment holiday is a good financial break and, if you're struggling with other bills, it's better than missing payments without an agreement, there are some real consequences to it:

    • Interest racks up. Interest isn't frozen, so it still racks up over the period. Normally you make repayments that lower the amount owed and reduce the interest, yet the fact you're not paying while the interest still accrues means it will cost you more.

    • It may affect your ability to get future credit. When the coronavirus payment holidays were first launched, the FCA and Chancellor were keen to note that it wouldn't go on your credit file, nor impact your future chances of getting credit.

      Yet while it still isn't reported on your credit files, as Martin revealed in mid-May, lenders can negatively assess you if you've had a payment holiday. They can find out if you've taken one via application forms, Open Banking or just from looking at your payment history.

    For more on Martin's view on this question, see his Should you take a payment holiday? blog.

    How do I apply for a mortgage payment holiday?

    If you've decided that a payment holiday is the right solution for you, it's usually best to apply online if your lender allows it. Of the 13 big lenders we checked, all have online application portals:

    Bank of Scotland | Barclays | Coventry Building SocHalifax | HSBC | Lloyds | Nationwide | NatWest | RBSSantander | TSBVirgin Money | Yorkshire Building Soc

    If your lender isn't listed, just head to its website, and follow the links to its coronavirus help.

    If you're already on a payment holiday, the bank or building society will usually contact you before that payment holiday comes to an end to ask what you want to do, so you won't usually need to fill in the forms above. 

    Quick questions

    • If you apply for a payment 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.

      But how much you'll have to pay after the mortgage holiday will vary depending on how your bank wants you to repay those missed payments. It varies between banks – though generally there are three options:

      • Make up for the 'lost' payments by increasing your future monthly mortgage payments.
      • Lengthen your mortgage term, eg, if you've 15 years left now, you'd have up to 15 years and six months left (depending on how many months you took a payment holiday for) after the holiday and your payments would stay the same.
      • Repay the accrued interest as a lump sum, then resume repayments at the same level as before the holiday.

      Your lender will typically decide what options are available to you. 

      To get a rough idea of how much your monthly payments could increase by after taking a mortgage payment holiday, use our NEW Mortgage Holiday Calculator.  

    • If you have an interest-only mortgage, you can also access the payment holiday support described above and below. 

      In addition, if your maturity date for repayment of the capital part of your mortgage falls between 30 March 2020 and 31 October 2021, you'll be able to defer repaying the capital until 31 October 2021. However, to qualify for this deferral, you must continue to stay up to date with payments (excepting any periods when you were on an agreed payment holiday). 

    • No, not until after your six months of payment holidays are over. The only exception to this is if you agree to a repossession. 

    • Although regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) doesn't cover buy-to-let lending, it and the Treasury have said that they expect buy-to-let lenders to offer "voluntarily" the same forbearance on buy-to-let mortgages as they would have to on regulated residential mortgages.

    • If you've multiple debts you're behind on paying, the lender should refer you to help, and potentially free debt advice charities which will be able to help you further.

      Make sure to let the lender know that its repayment isn't the only one you're struggling with.

      It's also worth checking out our Debt Help guide - you can refer yourself for help if you don't want to wait for your lender to do it. 

    If you've already taken six months of mortgage payment holidays, here's what help could be available...

    image of a calendar with a house at the top and certain months crossed off

    If you've already taken six months of payment holidays on your mortgage, then you'll be moved on to 'tailored support measures'. However, what that means for you will depend on your financial circumstances. How settled your finances are will also have an impact.

    The following are some of the help measures you may be offered, though lenders are free to offer other solutions if something else works better for your particular circumstances:

    • A (further) payment deferral. This is likely to be a short-term measure only, and may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as changing your mortgage type or length.
    • A (further) period of reduced payments. If you can pay something towards your mortgage, but can't make the full contractual repayment, your lender may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, this measure is likely to be for the short-term only.
    • An extension to your mortgage term. This is essentially like a remortgage, and means you'll pay less each month (but as you're borrowing over a longer period, you'll pay more overall).
    • A change to your mortgage type. For example, this could be switching you to an interest-only mortgage or changing to a product with a different interest rate.

    Tailored support WILL go on your credit report

    The FCA says mortgage lenders SHOULD report any further 'forbearance' (ie, the financial support they provide, such as extra payment deferrals) after you've had six months of payment holidays to credit reference agencies. Your lender should let you know if the support it's offering you would have an impact on your credit report (see how to check your credit reports for free).

    Quick questions

    • If you're already on a payment holiday, your lender should contact you before it comes to an end to find out if you can resume normal payments. If you can't, then use that call or the contact details on the email, letter or secure message to talk to your lender.

      If there's limited time before your next payment, it may offer a temporary solution, such as a further payment holiday, before moving you on to a longer term solution.

      Take the time to understand the implications of any help you're offered - ask what it'll mean for your payments in future, and whether the help will go on your credit report. 

      Lenders are currently very busy, so it's best to do this as soon as possible before your next payment if you know you won't be able to make that payment. 

    • If your lender offers you a (further) payment holiday, it's likely 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.

      But how much you'll have to pay after the mortgage holiday will vary depending on how your bank wants you to repay those missed payments. It varies between banks – though generally there are three options:

      • Make up for the 'lost' payments by increasing your future monthly mortgage payments.
      • Lengthen your mortgage term, eg, if you've 15 years left now, you'd have 15 years and however many months left after the holiday and your payments would stay the same.
      • Repay the accrued interest as a lump sum, then resume repayments at the same level as before the holiday.

      Your lender will typically decide what options are available to you. 

      To get a rough idea of how much your monthly payments could increase by after taking a mortgage payment holiday, use our NEW Mortgage Holiday Calculator.  

    • Yes, but only after trying everything it can to work with you to find a solution, and then only after going through all the normal legal processes it needs to do to get a possession order. There are a few exceptions to this:

      • If you're self-isolating
      • If your area's in a local lockdown
      • Or if the arrears have only built up as a result of the payment holidays you've taken

      If this is the case, make it clear to your lender if it tries to talk to you about any potential repossession.

    • Although regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) doesn't cover buy-to-let lending, it and the Treasury have said that they expect buy-to-let lenders to offer "voluntarily" the same forbearance on buy-to-let mortgages as they would have to on regulated residential mortgages.

    • If you've multiple debts you're behind on paying, the lender should refer you to help, and potentially free debt advice charities which will be able to help you further.

      Make sure to let the lender know that its repayment isn't the only one you're struggling with.

      It's also worth checking out our Debt Help guide - you can refer yourself for help if you don't want to wait for your lender to do it. 

  2. Help if you're struggling with credit card debt or loan repayments

    cartoon image showing a bag with a pound sign on it

    At the height of lockdown, more than 1.7 million loans, credit cards and store cards were on payment holidays. And, while that number's now less than 100,000, that means that many are still in need of help. 

    The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has confirmed help will be available until 31 March 2021 to people credit cards and loans (and this includes store cards, catalogue credit, guarantor loans, logbook loans, credit union loans, home-collected credit and community development finance institution loans). Plus, if your debt has been sold on to a debt collection firm from one of these lenders, they'll also have to give you the option.

    Here's what help's available if your finances have been affected by coronavirus and you're struggling to pay your debts:

    • Borrowers who've not yet had a payment holiday will be able to request one up until 31 March 2021. The FCA chose the March date to align payment holiday help with other coronavirus help measures, such as furlough. Generally, you'll be given a three-month payment holiday when you first apply, though you'll be able to resume payments earlier if you don't need that long. 

    • Borrowers who've already had or are on a payment holiday will be able to 'top-up' to a total of six months of payment holidays. In general, payment holidays are given in three-month tranches, so for most people, you'll get an initial three-month payment holiday, and then another three months (whether or not these are taken together).

      Yet, if up to now you've only had, say, a two-month payment holiday, you'd be entitled to another four months to top up to the six-month limit (though the lender has to give a maximum of three months at a time, so you may need to take the three months, then ask for an extension for the final month). 

    • You'll still be charged interest during the payment holiday. This means you'll likely end up paying slightly more overall. So it's best to do this only if you need to – if you can pay, it's best to keep doing so.

    • You can arrange with your lender to take partial payment holidays. If you can make some payments towards your loan repayment or minimum payment on your card, but can't pay the whole amount, you'll be able to come to an agreement with your lender to do so. This is better than a full payment holiday as less interest will accrue.  

    • Borrowers who've already had a six-month payment holiday and still need help will be offered 'tailored support'. Your lender should contact you to discuss this. Read more about the tailored help you could be offered. 

    • Your first six months of payment holidays WON'T be reported as missed payments on your credit file, but lenders can still find out about them. Usually if you miss a payment, the lender reports that to credit reference agencies. If you then apply for credit, other lenders will be able to see the missed payment. Yet, when you agree a payment holiday with your lender, it's reported as if the payment has been made (assuming you weren't in arrears before the payment holiday.

      But, it's worth knowing that even if it's not on your credit file, lenders can still find out about the payment holiday in other ways - for example, they can see your mortgage balance isn't going down - and can use that information to help their decision when you next apply for credit.

    Here's the help currently being offered by 12 big banks and card providers:

    Bank Accepting loan payment holiday applications? Accepting credit card payment holidays applications?
    Bank of Scotland Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    Barclaycard N/A Yes, apply online
    Barclays Yes, apply online N/A
    Halifax Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    HSBC Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    Lloyds Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    MBNA Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    Nationwide Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    NatWest Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    RBS Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    Santander Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    TSB Yes, apply online Yes, apply online
    Virgin Money No online portal, apply by phone Yes, apply online

    If you're already on a payment holiday, the bank or building society will usually contact you before that payment holiday comes to an end to ask what you want to do, so you won't usually need to fill in the forms above. 

    If you've already taken six months of payment holidays on your cards or loans, here's what help could be available...

    If you've had six months of loan or credit card payment holidays and are still struggling (or you had a payment holiday earlier in the summer, then resumed repayments and are now struggling again), your lender will need to provide tailored help. As it'll be based on your circumstances, there are no set solutions. But, you may be offered one or more of the bits of help below:

    • A (further) payment deferral. This is likely to be a short-term measure only, and may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as setting up a repayment plan.

    • A (further) period of reduced payments. If you can pay something towards your card debt but can't make the full minimum contractual repayment, your lender may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, this measure is likely to be short-term only.

    • Waiving or reducing interest. If you can't meet your payments, the lender needs to make sure the amount you owe isn't rising out of control, so it may need to cut or waive the interest it's charging you. 

    • Agreeing a repayment plan. This is where your lender works with you to set up a plan that doesn't meet contractual repayments, but allows you to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time. 

    • Refinancing your credit agreement. This might mean, for example if you have a credit card, you convert the debt to a loan with a lower rate of interest and agree to pay set monthly installments over a longer period. This will only be offered where the lender offers personal loans as well as credit cards, and where it's likely to be affordable, and your finances are settled enough to commit to a new agreement. 

    Tailored support WILL go on your credit report

    The FCA says lenders SHOULD report the help they're giving you after you've had six months of payment holidays to credit reference agencies. Lenders will need to let you know if the support they're offering would have an impact on your credit report (see how to check your credit reports for free). 

    Quick questions

    • If you're already on a credit card or loan payment holiday, your lender should contact you before it comes to an end to find out if you can resume normal payments. If you can't, then use that call or the contact details on the email, letter or secure message to talk to your lender.

      If there's limited time before your next payment, it may offer a temporary solution, such as a further payment holiday, before moving you on to a longer term solution.

      Take the time to understand the implications of any help you're offered - ask what it'll mean for your payments in future, and whether the help will go on your credit report. 

      If this is the first time you've contacted your lender about getting help, head to its website and use the contact details in the coronavirus section to talk to someone who can help you.

      Lenders are currently very busy, so it's best to do this as soon as possible before your next payment if you know you won't be able to make that payment. 

    • Hundreds of thousands of credit card borrowers have been getting letters and emails – known as 'persistent debt notices' – asking them to pay off more of 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 them 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.

      See our Persistent Debt guide for full help, including whether you can transfer your debt to 0%.  

    • It will depend - it's certainly something to ask your lender about. Make it a point of negotiation - after all, you'll be in a better position to pay the debt down if you're not paying interest.

    • If you've multiple debts you're behind on paying, the lender should refer you to help, and potentially free debt advice charities which will be able to help you further.

      Make sure to let the lender know that its repayment isn't the only one you're struggling with.

      It's also worth checking out our Debt Help guide - you can refer yourself for help if you don't want to wait for your lender to do it. 

    • No. If you have a guarantor loan and you make an agreement with the lender for a different payment plan, then you both need to abide by that agreement. However, if the guarantor lender doesn't agree to what you're proposing, it can ask your guarantor to begin making payments.

      You could check if your guarantor loan was originally mis-sold, but this is unlikely if it was affordable when you took it out, but it's become unaffordable due to a change in circumstances stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. 

  3. Help if you're struggling to pay your rent-to-own, pawnbroker or buy now, pay later loan

    The Financial Conduct Authority has also extended help available for people with pawnbroker loans, rent-to-own goods and buy now, pay later loans (as well as those people whose debts have been sold on to a debt collection firm from one of these lenders). 

    Lenders in these three areas must give three-month payment holidays or partial payment holidays (where you pay some of what you owe but not the whole amount) to customers who are struggling due to coronavirus who haven't yet had a payment holiday, or who have previously had a payment holiday but haven't yet had six months' worth.

    How exactly the payment holiday works depends on what type of product you have...

    • Buy now, pay later. You can ask for a payment holiday or partial payment holiday of up to three months and you'll have until 31 March 2021 to do so. If you get a payment holiday, and you're in a promotional period – say an initial 0% interest deal – this should be extended by the length of the payment holiday. However, if you are paying interest, this will continue to accrue during the payment holiday and will be added to what you owe once you start paying again. 

      Buy now, pay later covers in-store credit or catalogue credit where you get an interest-free or low-interest period at the start, often for a year, where you may not need to make any payments. After the initial period, you'll need to make monthly payments, and you may start being charged interest at this point. Buy-now-pay-later firms include Hitachi Capital and Consumer Credit Solutions, though the finance is arranged in store or online.  

      Many people have asked us if Swedish bank Klarna and its buy-now-pay-later service is included in this. Officially it isn't, as most of its very-short term finance deals aren't regulated in the same way. But when we asked Klarna, it said it was helping customers who were struggling to pay, and one option to help included payment holidays. If you're having difficulties with repayments, get in touch with its customer service team.  

    • Rent-to-own customers. Again, you can ask for a payment holiday or partial payment holiday of up to three months, and you'll have until 31 March to ask. If you need to keep using the goods, eg, fridge or washing machine, firms won't be able to repossess them due to non-payment till at least February, either. However, interest will continue to rack up during the holiday so only consider this if you really need it. 

      Rent-to-own stores, such as PerfectHome and the in-administration BrightHouse, let you take white goods and other household appliances home in return for weekly or monthly payments to 'rent' the item. Usually you'll be able to buy the item if you want to, during the contract or at the end, though you can return it at the end if you no longer need it or want to upgrade.

      Rent-to-own stores won't be able to charge customers any additional fees if social-distancing measures mean goods can't be collected or repossessed, whether that's because the store is shut, or the firm's agents can't get to you to take the goods back.  

    • Pawnbroking customers. You'll be able to ask for a payment holiday or partial payment holiday of up to three months here too (again until 31 March). You'll continue to accrue interest during the payment holiday.

      Your redemption period would also be extended for the same amount of time as the payment holiday. If your redemption period has already ended, the pawnbroker shouldn't serve notice to sell the item during the three months. If it's already told you it plans to sell your item, it should pause the sale.

      Pawnbroking firms also won't be able to charge customers additional fees if social-distancing measures mean items can't be redeemed, collected or repossessed, whether that's because the store is shut or if the customer can't get to it, for example if they're self-isolating or shielding.

    If you've already taken six months of payment holidays, here's what help could be available...

    If you've had six months of payment holidays on your rent-to-own, pawnbroker or buy now, pay later loan and are still struggling (or you had a payment holiday earlier in the summer, then resumed repayments and are now struggling again), your lender will need to provide tailored help. As it'll be based on your circumstances, there are no set solutions. But, you may be offered one or more of the bits of help below:

    • A (further) payment deferral. This is likely to be a short-term measure only, and may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as setting up a repayment plan.
    • A (further) period of reduced payments. If you can pay something towards your loan but can't make the full contractual repayment, your lender may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, this measure is likely to be short-term only.
    • Waiving or reducing interest. If you can't meet your payments, the lender needs to make sure the amount you owe isn't rising out of control, so it may need to cut or waive the interest it's charging you. 
    • Agreeing a repayment plan. This is where your lender works with you to set up a plan that doesn't meet contractual repayments, but allows you to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time. 
    • Refinancing your credit agreement. This might mean, for example if you have a loan, that you agree to pay it back over a longer period, thus reducing the monthly payment you need to make (but as you're borrowing over a longer period, you'll pay more overall). This will only be offered where it's likely to be affordable, and your finances are settled enough to commit to a new agreement. 

    However, the FCA says lenders SHOULD report any additional help they give you after you've had six months of payment holidays to credit reference agencies. Lenders will need to let you know if the support they're offering would have an impact on your credit report (see how to check your credit reports for free). 

    Quick questions

    • If you're already on a payment holiday, your lender should contact you before it comes to an end to find out if you can resume normal payments. If you can't, then use that call or the contact details on the email, letter or secure message to talk to your lender.

      If there's limited time before your next payment, it may offer a temporary solution, such as a further payment holiday, before moving you on to a longer term solution.

      Take the time to understand the implications of any help you're offered - ask what it'll mean for your payments in future, and whether the help will go on your credit report. 

      If this is the first time you've contacted your lender about getting help, head to its website and use the contact details in the coronavirus section to talk to someone who can help you.

      Lenders are currently very busy, so it's best to do this as soon as possible before your next payment if you know you won't be able to make that payment. 

    • Yes. There was a ban on this up until 31 October, but your pawnbroker is now free to sell goods that are out of their redemption period if you're on its 'tailored help' measures. However, this should be a last resort when all other attempts to find a reasonable solution have failed. 

      If you're on an agreed payment holiday, then the pawnbroker shouldn't sell your goods and should extend the redemption period until the end of that payment holiday.

    • Yes. There was a ban on this up until 31 October, but your provider's now free to repossess the goods if you can't make payments, assuming you're on 'tailored support' measures. However, this should be a last resort when all other attempts to find a reasonable solution have failed. 

      If you're on an agreed payment holiday, then the store shouldn't repossess your items and should extend the redemption period until the end of that payment holiday.

    • No. If you have a guarantor loan and you make an agreement with the lender for a different payment plan, then you both need to abide by that agreement. However, if the guarantor lender doesn't agree to what you're proposing, it can ask your guarantor to begin making payments.

      You could check if your guarantor loan was originally mis-sold, but this is unlikely if it was affordable when you took it out, but it's become unaffordable due to a change in circumstances stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. 

    • If you've multiple debts you're behind on paying, the lender should refer you to help, and potentially free debt advice charities which will be able to help you further.

      Make sure to let the lender know that its repayment isn't the only one you're struggling with.

      It's also worth checking out our Debt Help guide - you can refer yourself for help if you don't want to wait for your lender to do it. 

  4. Help if you're struggling with payday loans

    Payday loans are treated slightly differently to other credit. Here, only a one month payment holiday is allowed, and it's the only payment holiday where lenders have to cancel interest during the payment holiday. 

    If you've not yet had a payment holiday on your payday loan...

    If you're struggling due to the effects of coronavirus on your income, and you can't meet payments on your payday loan, you can apply for a payment holiday any time before 31 March 2021. Go to your lender's website and use the contact details there to apply (you may need to call the lender). 

    The payment holiday will last for one month, and can't be extended. Plus, while you're on the payment holiday, the lender can't charge interest. 

    However, no extensions are allowed. So, if you're still in difficulties when your payment holiday comes to an end, read on.

    If you've already had a payment holiday on your payday loan...

    If you still have problems paying after the payment holiday ends, your lender still needs to help you. This could include:

    • The lender accepting token payments, eg £1, until you can resume normal repayments
    • Agreeing a repayment plan so the debt's paid off over several months
    • Waiving or lowering interest rate charges

    So, if you can't pay your payday loan - whether it's a new problem or a continuation of previous difficulties - talk to your lender to see which of the solutions works best for you and for it. 

    For more information, have a read of our payday loans guide, which has help on steps you can take to get out of payday loan debt. It's also worth checking if your payday loan was mis-sold and whether you can reclaim.

  5. Help if you're struggling with car finance payments

    model of a car on top of a pile of coins

    If you're struggling with a car, van or motorbike finance plan due to coronavirus, you can ask your lender for help. 

    Regulator the Financial Conduct Authority confirmed an extension of its payment holiday guidance, which is designed to help those who have been financially affected by coronavirus. Your lender needs to help you in the following ways:

    • Borrowers who've not yet had a payment holiday will be able to request one up until 31 March 2021. The FCA chose the March date to align payment holiday help with other coronavirus help measures, such as furlough. Generally, you'll be given a three-month payment holiday when you first apply, though you'll be able to resume payments earlier if you don't need that long. 

    • Borrowers who've already had or are on a payment holiday will be able to 'top-up' to a total of six months of payment holidays. In general, payment holidays are given in three-month tranches, so for most people, you'll get an initial three-month payment holiday, and then another three months (whether or not these are taken together).

      Yet, if up to now you've only had, say, a two-month payment holiday, you'd be entitled to another four months to top up to the six-month limit (though the lender has to give a maximum of three months at a time, so you may need to take the three months, then ask for an extension for the final month). 

    • If you're on your first payment holiday and it ends after 31 March 2021, you'll be able to extend it. While 31 March is the deadline to apply for new payment holidays, if you're still on your first and it takes you past the deadline, you'll be able to extend it. However, all payment deferrals need to end by 31 July 2021, so if you get in to financial trouble in the new year and want to benefit from the full six months of payment holidays, you'd need to apply for your first payment holiday before your February car finance payment is due.  

    • You'll still be charged interest during the payment holiday. This means you'll likely end up paying slightly more overall. So it's best to do this only if you need to – if you can pay, it's best to keep doing so.

    • You can take partial payment holidays if you can pay something. This is better than a full payment holiday if you can make the payment, as less interest will rack up. Again, the deadline to apply for a partial payment holiday is 31 March 2021.

    • Borrowers who've already had six months of payment holidays on their car finance and still need help will be offered 'tailored support'. Your lender should contact you to discuss this. Read more about the tailored help you could be offered. 

    • Your first six months of payment holidays WON'T be reported as missed payments on your credit file, but lenders can still find out about them. Usually if you miss a payment, the lender reports that to credit reference agencies. If you then apply for credit, other lenders will be able to see the missed payment. Yet, when you agree a payment holiday with your lender, it's reported as if the payment has been made (assuming you weren't in arrears before the payment holiday.

      But, it's worth knowing that even if it's not on your credit file, lenders can still find out about the payment holiday in other ways - for example, they can see your car loan balance isn't going down - and can use that information to help their decision when you next apply for credit.

    • Your lender won't be able to repossess your car for non-payment until after 31 March 2021. The only real exception is if you agree to the repossession, or your car's depreciating so rapidly and you've no real prospect of repaying. Your lender would still need to go through the proper legal processes to get the repossession order. 

    If you need help, go to your lender's website to see how it would like you to apply for the payment holiday - many allow you to do it online without speaking to anyone.

    If you've already taken six months of payment holidays on your car finance agreement, here's what help could be available...

    cartoon of car in front of house
    If you've had six months of car finance payment holidays and are still struggling (or you had a payment holiday earlier in the summer, then resumed repayments and are now struggling again), your lender will need to provide tailored help. As it'll be based on your circumstances, there are no set solutions. But, you may be offered one or more of the bits of help below:
     
    • A (further) payment deferral. This is likely to be a short-term measure only, and may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as setting up a repayment plan, or refinancing your car loan.

    • A (further) period of reduced payments. If you can pay something towards your agreed payment on your car finance, but can't make the full contractual repayment, your lender may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, this measure is likely to be short term.

    • Waiving or reducing interest. If you can't meet your payments on your car finance, the lender needs to make sure the amount you owe isn't rising out of control, so it may need to cut or waive interest. 

    • Agreeing a repayment plan. This is where your lender works with you to set up a plan that doesn't meet contractual repayments, but allows you to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time. 

    • Refinancing your car finance deal. This essentially means entering into a new agreement for the amount you owe, lowering the monthly payment but paying off the debt over a longer term.

      It's complicated in some car finance deals, especially personal contract purchase deals, as if you have the car for a longer period, the 'guaranteed future value' (the balloon payment at the end) will change, as the car will be older. If this is the case, be careful and make sure the lender explains the implications of a new deal to you.

      This will only be offered where it's likely to be affordable, and your finances are settled enough to commit to a new agreement. 

    Tailored support WILL go on your credit report

    The FCA says mortgage lenders SHOULD report any further 'forbearance' (ie, the financial support they provide, such as extra payment deferrals) after you've had six months of payment holidays to credit reference agencies. Your lender should let you know if the support it's offering you would have an impact on your credit report (see how to check your credit reports for free).

    Quick questions

    • If you're already on a payment holiday, your car finance lender should contact you before it comes to an end to find out if you can resume normal payments. If you can't, then use that call or the contact details on the email, letter or secure message to talk to your lender.

      If there's limited time before your next payment, it may offer a temporary solution, such as a further payment holiday, before moving you on to a longer term solution, such as refinancing to a different, cheaper deal.

      Take the time to understand the implications of any help you're offered - ask what it'll mean for your payments in future, and whether the help will go on your credit report. 

      If this is the first time you've contacted your lender about getting help, head to its website and use the contact details in the coronavirus section to talk to someone who can help you.

      Lenders are currently very busy, so it's best to do this as soon as possible before your next payment if you know you won't be able to make that payment. 

    • Yes, but only after trying everything it can to work with you to find a solution, and then only after going through all the normal legal processes it needs to repossess it. 

      However, if the arrears have only built up as a result of the payment holidays you've taken, then the lender shouldn't repossess your car. If this is the case, make it clear to your lender if it tries to talk to you about any potential repossession.

    • If you've multiple debts you're behind on paying, the lender should refer you to help, and potentially free debt advice charities which will be able to help you further.

      Make sure to let the lender know that its repayment isn't the only one you're struggling with.

      It's also worth checking out our Debt Help guide - you can refer yourself for help if you don't want to wait for your lender to do it. 

    • If you're not able to pay their balloon payment at the end of the deal but want to keep your vehicle, the lender will be expected to work with you to find a solution.

    • A voluntary termination (VT) is a little-known clause in the Consumer Credit Act, which allows you to get out of a hire purchase deal early. You can sometimes also get out of a personal contract purchase (PCP) agreement early, though you can't if you're leasing the car.

      A VT means that provided you've repaid at least half the total amount of finance on your contract, you can terminate the agreement and return the car to the finance company. This is a handy clause in a car finance contract if you find:

      • You no longer need the car.
      • You want to cut costs.
      • You can't afford repayments.
      • You can get a similar car for a lower cost than you would by making the remaining payments.

      If you decide to do this, the car should be in good condition when you hand it back. If not, you'll have to pay for any outstanding repair work that needs doing.

      If you're not yet halfway through the payments, you'll need to pay the amount outstanding to reach halfway before you can get out of the agreement. This is especially relevant in PCP deals, where the balloon payment is factored into the total amount of finance in the contract, so you may be a long way from reaching the halfway point if you have a PCP deal. 

      Important: If you decide to end the agreement early, make sure to get everything in writing and keep a copy so nobody can claim you have defaulted on your payments.

  6. Paying overdraft interest? If struggling, see if your bank's still offering a £500 interest-free buffer

    image of sign saying danger overdraft charges ahead

    Earlier this year, we warned that overdrafts were the new danger debt – with interest rates set to rise by 6 April to 40%, double those found on high-street credit cards.

    Yet due to the pandemic, temporary rules were put in place by regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ensure NO ONE would pay more as a result of these changes. This help included offering up to £500 interest-free to all customers for three months. From July this was changed and only those struggling financially due to coronavirus could ask for this buffer, and had until 31 October to apply. 

    As this deadline has passed, sadly many have now closed to applications, but we've found seven banks which continue to offer up to £500 at 0%, if you've been hit by the pandemic and are struggling to pay. These are:

    Bank of Scotland | Clydesdale BankHalifax | Lloyds | Santander | Virgin Money | Yorkshire Bank

    Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland say you need to apply before 30 Nov 2020 if you want the help. Yet, the others don't have an end date, so we suggest you go quick if you need the help and bank with one of these banks.

    Bank not listed above? You'll need to ask your bank for 'tailored support'

    This could include...

    • Reducing or waiving overdraft interest
    • Transferring the overdraft debt to a cheaper credit product, eg, a personal loan (usually the overdraft will be closed if you accept this solution so you don't end up running the overdraft debt back up)
    • Agreeing to reduce the overdraft limit in stages as you pay the balance off

    For further help and information, see our Cut overdraft costs guide, which includes info on how to get your overdraft to 0%. 

    Quick questions

    • The rules above apply to existing authorised overdrafts. If you have a bank account without an overdraft, you can apply for one in the normal way (unless it's a basic bank account). However, you would be subject to a credit check – and while banks are being told to do everything they can to help customers suffering a temporary loss in income, they still have an obligation to lend responsibly, so it's not certain you'll get an overdraft if you apply.

      If you do get accepted for an overdraft, then you'll open it on the terms available to all other customers. If that includes tailored help if you're struggling due to coronavirus, then you'll get this help too.

    • Yes, the overdraft will be shown on your credit report if you're using it. However, there wouldn't be any changes as a result of part of (or all of) the overdraft becoming interest-free. As now, your credit report will show how much you owe on your overdraft. 

      The only difference might come if you accept a loan to pay off the overdraft. In this case, your bank account would show with a balance of zero on your credit report (even if you're in credit) and the loan would be added as a new credit product in the loans section of your report (see how to check your credit reports for free). 

  7. Help if you're struggling to pay insurance premiums

    cartoon of a house under a protective umbrella

    If you're struggling to pay your insurance premiums because your income's been affected by coronavirus, your insurer should help you. It should first review your policy to make sure it's suitable and as cheap as it can be. If that doesn't help, then it should work with you on a repayment plan that suits you both.

    The measures below cover all types of general and protection insurance, which means it covers car, van and motorbike, home, travel, income protection, life and private medical insurance, as well as boiler cover and critical illness cover, to name just a few. It also covers premium credit providers – these are the companies that give you a 'loan' meaning you can pay monthly premiums rather than annual.

    While any help you get will be based on your individual circumstances, measures your insurer might offer could include:

    • Reviewing your policy. This is the first port of call, and insurers would look at whether you can drop extras you may not be using, such as key cover on car insurance. Insurers could also look at whether a cheaper policy with lower cover levels may be suitable. 

    • A (further) payment deferral. This is likely to be a short-term measure only, and may be offered if your circumstances are still changing, and you're not able to commit to a longer-term measure such as setting up a repayment plan.

    • A (further) period of reduced payments. If you can pay something but can't make the full contractual repayment, your insurer or premium credit lender may agree to you making reduced payments. Again, this is likely to be short-term only.

    • Waiving or reducing interest. If you can't meet your payments, the insurer or lender needs to make sure the amount you owe isn't rising out of control, so it may need to cut or waive the interest it's charging you. 

    • Agreeing a repayment plan. This is where your insurer or lender works with you to set up a plan that doesn't meet contractual repayments, but allows you to pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time. 

    Tailored support WILL go on your credit report

    The FCA's says insurers and lenders SHOULD report any further forbearance (such as extra payment deferrals) after 31 October to credit reference agencies. Lenders will need to let you know if the support they're offering you would have an impact on your credit report. 

    Quick coronavirus and insurance questions

    • The Association of British Insurers has said there's no need to change or update your cover if you're now working from home and, crucially, you don't need to call and tell your insurer.  

      This applies if you're doing clerical work – generally defined as working on a computer and making phone calls.

      However, it won't cover any claims arising from visitors to your home who are there as part of your work. It also won't cover any stock you might have brought home – for example, if you've a mail order business that you're now operating from home. If that's the case, call and tell your insurer as you may need to pay a premium to have the stock covered, or you may need to get an extension to your usual business insurance. 

      For more information on the help available for home insurance customers, plus general cost-cutting tips, see our Cheap Home Insurance guide. 

    • If major things change, such as losing your job (no need if you're on the Job Support Scheme), or if you have new convictions or medical issues, you should notify your insurers. See What must I tell my insurer mid-term?

    • Being in full lockdown meant that many were using their vehicles much less, if at all. But even though restrictions are now looser (though in some areas, tighter rules have been brought back in), some may still not be driving as much as usual. If that's you, there are two main ways you could possibly save, and which you look at will depend on how much you're using your vehicle.
       

      • Not using your car at all? Declare it 'off-road' to save on tax and insurance. As you now need insurance when you own a car, it's something you're paying for that you may not be using.

        But there's an exception to needing to pay. If it's kept on private land (eg, garage/drive) you can declare it off-road via a Sorn (statutory off-road notification), which cancels your vehicle tax (and may net you a refund). You can then cancel your insurance, though do note your car won't be covered for damage, fire or theft.

        This may be too much effort for a small saving, but you may decide it's worth it if you're not going to use your car long-term.

        For more information, see how to Sorn.

      • Still using your car, but much less? See if you can change your policy to save. Insurance is about risk, so the more chance they think you have of claiming, the more they charge. There are three changes that may save you money:

        a) Substantially reducing estimated annual mileage
        b) Telling your provider you're no longer driving for work or commuting
        c) Removing young or risky extra drivers

        As insurance pricing is personal, you may not save from these, especially if your insurer charges an admin fee to change your details mid-policy. We've more information in Should I reduce my car insurance cover?
    • The private medical sector spent some months supporting the NHS in its response to the coronavirus pandemic – for example by providing hospitals, staff, beds and equipment.

      This meant there was less capacity for private treatment, with some planned procedures delayed. Some private medical insurers, including AvivaAxa, Bupa, The ExeterSaga and WPA, have already said they'll pass any extra financial benefit they got from that period to customers, with some already having paid rebates, and some still to do so.

      For more on private medical insurance, including how to find a cheap policy and what to look out for, see our Private Medical Insurance guide.

    • 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 relating 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 doing so – 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.

  8. Help if you're struggling to make payments on your IVA/trust deed

    If you've got an IVA – a legally binding debt repayment plan – and need extra help, it used to be that your supervisor had to ask your creditors to approve changes such as a payment break or reduced payments. This is called a 'variation' and can be a slow process.

    However, the coronavirus guidance has been designed to increase the flexibility of variations and gives situations where the IVA supervisor can provide more help immediately with no need for approval from creditors.

    The rules allow:

    • Your IVA supervisor to approve up to an extra six months of payment breaks. Initially the supervisor will grant three months, then can approve a further three-month break.

    • Your supervisor to approve a reduction in your monthly payments by up to 50% (the standard variation is 15%).

    • Your supervisor to apply "discretion" when considering whether redundancy payments in excess of six months' net take-home pay are required to be brought into the arrangement.

    • Critical workers (as defined in the Government list) to be exempt from the rules around bonuses and overtime – usually these need to go towards the IVA if they're over 10% of take-home pay.

    • That no attempt should be made to release equity during the pandemic unless the debtor wants this. Instead the supervisor has discretion to extend the IVA for 12 months. The old rules say if you are in the last year of your IVA and have a home with equity you may have to try to remortgage to pay some equity into your IVA.

    If you take a payment break, the extra months will be added on to the end of your IVA term, so it may last longer than the standard five years. You have until 20 April 2021 to apply for a payment break or reduction on your IVA. So if you're meeting payments now but start to struggle further down the line, the option will still be around to help you. 

    We've more information on IVAs and how they work in our Debt Solutions guide.

    More leeway on trust deeds in Scotland

    If you live in Scotland, the nearest equivalent to an IVA is a 'trust deed'. These generally last four years, during which time you'll pay an agreed amount to your creditors with any debt remaining written off. When you have a trust deed, all of your assets are passed on to someone who will look after your financial affairs, called a trustee.

    Accountant in Bankruptcy, the Scottish equivalent of the Insolvency Service, has released guidance with a couple of measures to help people with trust deeds during the coronavirus crisis. These are:

    • Encouraging trustees to decide not to increase the length of a trust deed beyond four years if someone is unable to make payments due to Covid-19. Normally, the four years can be extended if you fail to meet your payment obligations.
    • Allowing trustees to discharge you from your debts at the end of your trust deed, even if you haven't been able to meet your payments due to Covid-19. Normally, discharge can be refused if you haven't made your payments.

    To get a trust deed, you'll need to find an insolvency practitioner (IP) to administer your debts. Any of the professional debt advice charities will be able to advise you on whether a trust deed is right for you, and how to find an IP.

    Quick questions

    • An IVA is a formal agreement introduced by the Government as a way to help people who can't afford to pay back all of their unsecured debts. 

      It is a legally binding agreement only available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As above, if you're in Scotland, the nearest equivalent is a trust deed.

      You'll make repayments over a fixed term – usually five years – and your interest and charges are also frozen.

      At the end of the term, any remaining debt included in the IVA is written off, along with the interest and charges.

    • You can apply to make yourself bankrupt if you cannot pay your debts. However, bankruptcy will have a serious effect on your life and should be seen as a last resort. Make sure you've considered all other alternatives and received professional debt advice before you even think about going ahead with bankruptcy.

      Bankruptcy is a form of insolvency, which means your unsecured debts must be more than your assets (property, vehicles etc) for it to be considered.

      For more information on bankruptcy, see our Debt Solutions guide.

A note on savings – should you get cash out?

The savings market has been thoroughly shaken up, with rates plummeting since the summer. But, if you need access to savings locked away in fixed-rate accounts or in Lifetime ISAs, or you've got a temporary high balance you can't currently spend, the banks and the Government have put in specific-coronavirus help for these situations:

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  • Banks will allow you to access existing 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 10 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 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 only do this if you really need to. 

  • Lifetime ISA withdrawal penalty dropped from 25% to 20%. In May, the Treasury announced that people would be able to withdraw their cash from Lifetime ISAs without having to pay the full withdrawal charge. Usually, you're charged 25% of the amount withdrawn if you take cash out before you're 60 for anything other than buying a property.

    But that's now been cut to 20% for withdrawals made until 5 April 2021. This means LISA account holders will have to pay back any Government bonus they have received, but won't have to pay the additional withdrawal charge, which is equivalent to 6.25%. See our Lifetime ISA guide for full info on Lifetime ISAs and the penalty reduction.
     
  • Temporarily high savings balances now protected for 12 months. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) usually protects savings deposits up to the value of £85,000 per person, per banking group. The protection means that if the bank goes bust, your savings are safe up to that limit.

    However, temporary high balances up to £1 million are also covered for a period of six months, if the high balance came from a 'life event'. These could include selling your home, inheritances, redundancy, and insurance or compensation payouts.

    In light of the coronavirus, and the difficulties people may have in spending these temporary high balances, the FSCS has extended this protection. Now any qualifying high balances deposited in an account between 6 August 2020 and 31 January 2021 have £1 million protected for a period of 12 months rather than six.

    Any qualifying temporary high balances deposited on or after 1 February 2021 will have the usual six months' protection. Read more in Are your savings safe?
piggy bank standing on a laptop

Help if you're struggling to pay rent

cartoon of a row of houses in the background with a for rent sign in the foreground

Here are the need-to-knows if you're struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus outbreak:

  • Social renters shouldn't be evicted due to coronavirus. 

    Local government and housing association representatives have confirmed that no social renter should be evicted due to coronavirus.

  • If you rent privately, speak to your landlord as soon as possible to let them know your situation and work out a repayment plan. 

    While private landlords with a mortgage are usually eligible for a three-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday (and a further three-month extension if needed), this will only help if your landlord has a mortgage and uses your rent to pay it.

    Many landlords just have one extra property, often inherited and mortgage-free, and use the income from rent for living expenses. In the current crisis, these landlords aren't eligible for any Government help (not even universal credit). So if your landlord's in this position, they may be struggling too.

    When you talk to your landlord, be sensitive to their circumstances, and try to find a solution that suits you both.

  • Check you're receiving all financial help you're entitled to, including universal credit. 

    The Government increased the housing allowance part of universal credit in April so that the local housing allowance would cover at least 30% of the lowest rents in your area, which may help you. See our Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits guide for more.

    Tenants in Wales who are struggling to pay their rent arrears may also qualify for a new 1% APR loan over one to five years from the Welsh Government. The loan's paid directly to the landlord to cover the arrears, then you repay the government. You'll need to apply through a credit union - more information on the scheme, who's eligible and how to apply is on the Gov.wales website.

    A similar Tenant Hardship Loan Fund is being set up in Scotland. We'll add full detail here when the scheme is up and running.

    If you rent privately in London, it's worth using the Mayor of London's property licensing checker to see if you're owed a refund of up to 12 month's rent, which could be due if your landlord doesn't have the right documentation. You'll still need to put in some legwork but it could be worth £1,000s. See our news story for full information.

  • Your landlord may be able to evict you if you're not able to pay rent, but there's a long process to follow first – but while nations are in lockdown, there's extra protection. 

    There's a strict process landlords need to follow to evict you. The first part is to serve you notice of eviction. In England, Wales and Scotland, they usually need to give you six months' notice, and 12 weeks' notice in Northern Ireland.

    If you've not left after that time, they can then apply for an eviction notice. If, and only if, the court (or tribunal in Scotland) upholds the eviction can you be forced out. However in England, bailiffs can't currently evict you until 12 January 2021, except for anti-social behaviour cases.

    Here's what's happening with evictions in each UK nation, in terms of notice periods, when court eviction hearings are taking place and if a bailiff can force you out:
Nation Current notice landlords need to give (i) Are courts hearing cases? The court has issued an eviction notice, can I be evicted?
England Six months (ii) Yes No. Govt has banned bailiffs from evicting anyone between Tue 17 Nov and Mon 11 Jan (iii)
Wales Six months (iv) Yes Yes, though bailiffs will be banned from evicting anyone between Fri 11 Dec and Mon 11 Jan (iii)
Scotland Six months (v) Yes, if the eviction notice was issued before 7 Apr or anti-social behaviour cases where 3mths notice has passed. Otherwise, cases can't be heard until 6mth notice has elapsed.  Yes
Northern Ireland 12 weeks Yes, if the eviction notice was issued before 24 Mar or where the 12wk notice period has passed. Yes

(i) Applies to notices given up to 31 Mar 2021. (ii) Four weeks required if given for anti-social behaviour, or if you're more than six months behind on rent. (iii) Except for anti-social behaviour cases. (iv) Three months' notice needed if given for anti-social behaviour. Can be shorter if you're more than six months behind on rent. (v) 28 days' notice needed if given for anti-social behaviour. 

For more rental help, see our 50+ top tips for renters

Quick questions

    1. Your landlord has to give you notice that they wish to terminate your contract. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the minimum notice period landlords must give has been extended (previously it was typically a minimum of 28 days).

      The latest rules mean tenants in England, Scotland and Wales must now receive at least six months' warning (12 weeks in Northern Ireland) before they have to leave the property. There are some exceptions to this rule where the notice period can be shorter, though this is usually where the cause for eviction is due to anti-social behaviour or if you're more than six months behind on rent.

    2. If you don't leave, your landlord can take you to court. If you've not left by the time the notice period is up, your landlord can then choose to start court proceedings (or tribunal proceedings in Scotland), though courts from all four nations were banned from hearing eviction cases to help people during the pandemic. Cases in England and Wales were the last to restart, resuming on 21 September, with hearings having already reopened in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

      Courts will only be able to hear cases where the required notice period has passed and if the landlord chooses to restart court proceedings. Rules in England and Wales also require landlords to provide information about how tenants have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Without this, the case can be rearranged for a later date.  

    3. Enforcing the eviction. If a court upholds the case, an eviction can be enforced, which usually means bailiffs are appointed and can gain entry to the property to take possession of it, or to remove your belongings and change the locks. However, it can take weeks or months for the eviction to happen after the court allows it.

      Rules in England mean you can't be evicted until 11 January 2021 at the earliest, while in Wales you can't be evicted between 11 December and 11 January as part of a "winter truce" over evictions.

      In all UK nations, you won't be able to be evicted during any local lockdown that restricts inside gatherings.
  • It's worth saying that you need to be given at least the notice required in your country before your landlord can apply to the court or tribunal for a hearing date (see the question above for how much notice applies).

    If they do this, you won't have to leave your property immediately – it's still a process and, from hearing until actual eviction (if granted), can take weeks or even months.

    If your landlord's trying to evict you, head to Shelter (in England, Scotland or Wales), Housing Advice NICitizens Advice (not NI, but it signposts to local NI community advice centres) or your local Law Centre (not Scotland). All of these sites have lots of helpful information, plus many have advisers who can speak with you about your rights, what to do next, and potentially even help in court.

What help's available if I'm struggling to pay for energy, broadband, water or other bills?

If your income's been affected by coronavirus, then it's likely you could struggle to pay bills as well as making repayments on your debts. We've rounded up the help available on the most common household bills below. Scroll down, or see the specific help available for:

  1. Help if you're struggling to pay gas & electric, incl prepaid meters

    Energy suppliers are offering help to those who may struggle to pay bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – both prepay and credit meter customers. 

    On a credit meter?

    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. Click the link below to see what help your supplier's offering. 

    Plus, do a whole of market comparison via our Cheap Energy Club to see if you can get cheaper bills by switching – many can save over £200/year.

    On a prepay meter?

    Regulator Ofgem has written to all suppliers, saying it expects them to "take proactive measures to support prepayment meter customers, including customers in vulnerable circumstances".

    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. Click the link below to find out what help your supplier's offering.

    • On a credit meter? What firms are offering some customers

      Supplier Delaying bill due dates? Removing late payment charges? Allowing repayment over longer periods? Reassessing monthly payments? Offering alternative ways to pay? How to get help (1)
      British Gas Yes Yes No No No See FAQs or call 0333 202 9802
      EDF Yes No Yes No Yes See FAQs or call 0333 200 5100
      E.on Yes No No Yes No See its advice or call 0345 052 0000
      Npower Yes No Yes No Yes See FAQs or call 0800 073 3000
      Scottish Power Yes No Yes No Yes See FAQs or call 0800 027 0072
      SSE Hasn't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis. See FAQs or call 0345 070 7373
           
      Bulb No No Yes No Yes See its advice or call 0300 303 0635
      Co-op Energy (2) 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 No Yes Yes Yes No See FAQs or call 0330 303 5063
      Shell Energy Yes No Yes No No See its advice or call 0330 094 5800
      Small suppliers While some have committed to measures such as not increasing direct debits or offering more flexible payments, most suppliers haven't committed to any specific measures, but will offer help on a case-by-case basis. See supplier contact details 
      (1) Suppliers are urging you to contact them via email or live chat first, where possible, with any non-urgent queries. (2) Co-op Energy's response is handled by Octopus Energy, which now runs the brand. 
    • Supplier What can it do? How to get help (1)
      British Gas

      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

      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 them 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 be collected back at a "suitable rate" later. See its FAQs.

      Call 0333 200 5100
      E.on

      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 send a card or key in the post, or send an engineer to top up for you. However, it advises to top up a little extra or asking a trusted person to help to prepare for self-isolation. See its FAQs.

      Call 0345 052 0000
      Npower

      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 trusted person to help. See its FAQs.

      Call 0800 073 3000
      Scottish Power 

      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 them, and to add more credit to their 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
      Ovo (2)

      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 them – it urges them to disinfect their 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 

      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 them top up. Where this is not possible, it says you can pay online and a preloaded card will be delivered. See its advice.

      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 they are able to, 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 (which is now part of Shell 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 them top up. Where this is not possible, it can arrange for a preloaded card to be delivered to you. See its FAQs.

      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 up in advance and build up credit on the meter to do so, or to ask a family member or friend to take their key or card to the shop for them. It also says it has emergency credit to maintain supply. 
      Call 0113 457 3219
      Utility Warehouse

      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 weeks' 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 shop in case you're unable to leave your home. 

       

      Call 0333 777 3247 
      Utilita

      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) Suppliers are urging you to contact them via email or live chat first, where possible, with any non-urgent queries. (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.
    • 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).
      • Messages from your supplier shared with someone you've nominated (such as family or a 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 can sign up to the Priority Services Register if:
       

      • 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).
      See regulator Ofgem's website for more info on the Priority Services Register.
    • Providers put the installation of smart meters on hold during lockdown, with engineers only able to support customers in emergency situations, such as loss of supply.

      Suppliers are now installing smart meters again, though appointments may be limited still, and they won't install them if anyone in your household is self-isolating, is in a higher-risk group or has had coronavirus symptoms in the last month.

      If you're on a tariff that requires smart meters, precautions are in place for home visits and you don't have to get them fitted until you feel comfortable letting an engineer into your home.

      See our Smart Meters guide for more information on what they are, and whether you can get them. 

      How are suppliers installing smart meters while observing social distancing rules?

      Suppliers that have started installing smart meters again all have measures in place to ensure they don't visit anyone who is self-isolating or has coronavirus symptoms. So if you have an appointment, but any of the following applies to you, contact your provider before your appointment and let it know if anyone in your home:

      • Is self-isolating
      • Has any underlying health issues, or is at an increased risk should they contract coronavirus
      • Has tested positive for coronavirus in the last four weeks

      Suppliers should also call you on the day of your appointment to check these before an engineer visits. If the answer is yes to any of them, the firm will reschedule.

      Once the engineer arrives, they should follow strict social distancing and safety procedures, including:

      • Always keeping at least two metres from anyone. This may mean you'll be asked to stay in a different room during the installation.
      • Engineers should wear appropriate personal protective equipment the whole time. These will be sanitised between each home visit.
      • The engineer should wipe down any surfaces they touch before and after the installation.
      • You won't get a demonstration of how your smart meters work right now, though the engineer will leave a leaflet if you want.
      • If you have any questions about your smart meters, or your home's energy efficiency, firms ask that you do this over the telephone, rather than with the engineer in your home.
      • The engineer will remove all waste from the installation.  
    • If you're currently required to work from home full or part-time as your normal office isn't open due to coronavirus restrictions, you can claim for increased costs as a result, eg, heating and electricity.

      In practice, working out these costs is tough, so instead you can claim on a £6/week rate. This works one of two ways:

      • Employers can pay you £6/week extra, free of tax. Yet right now, with many firms struggling, asking may be bad timing, so...
      • If not, you can claim tax relief on £6 of income a week, which for basic 20% taxpayers is £1.20/wk (about £60/yr) and 40% taxpayers £2.40/wk (about £120/yr). You can apply directly to HM Revenue & Customs for this tax relief – and as long as you're claiming relief on the equivalent of £6/wk for the period you worked at home, you won't have to provide evidence of the extra spending.

      There's full info on how to claim in Martin's 'Working from home due to coronavirus? Claim tax back on extra costs' blog.

  2. Help if you're struggling to pay your broadband bill

    With many of us working from home, broadband has become almost as important as electricity and water as a home service.

    If you're struggling to pay your bill, a number of providers including BT, Sky and Vodafone have told us they'll help. All providers say that anyone who's struggling should contact them as soon as possible to discuss their options. 

    Ofcom, the broadband regulator, has told firms not to disconnect people who can't pay: "We expect providers to keep customers connected even where they are struggling to pay. We'll be asking them to suspend all disconnections, except those requested by the customer. We are in close contact with companies about what further support they can offer to customers in financial difficulties."

    • For most, switching during the current crisis shouldn't be a problem as your switch can often be done remotely –no one needs access to your home. 

      Yet for those switching from cable (eg, Virgin), you may need to wait. This is because most other firms use the BT Openreach network and while its engineers are now doing installations again, it's likely there's a backlog after they were put on hold due to social distancing.

      When you do switch, your broadband may be down for up to two hours, but in rare cases the outage can be longer if anything goes wrong, so it's worth considering at this time when broadband's so crucial.

  3. Help if you're struggling to pay your council tax

    The Local Government Association (which represents councils in England and Wales) has told us that all local authorities have help in place for people who are facing financial hardship as a result of coronavirus. COSLA, its Scottish equivalent, has told us that councils there are standing by to help too. If you're in Northern Ireland, see more on the council tax-equivalent domestic rates system in the questions below.

    We contacted a selection of 20 councils across England, Wales and Scotland. All of those to reply said they were offering some sort of support, and that this would depend on people's circumstances. Help offered could include...

    Payment holidays and payment plans

    All but one of the councils we heard from were giving those struggling with their 2020/21 council tax the chance to put off paying some of their bill to a later date – though you'll need to ask for this.

    Of those that may offer it, it's judged on a case-by-case basis and the deferral length varies, so there's no certainty. Some had pushed payments back a couple of months, others were more generous, offering a longer payment deferral. Do check with your council what it's offering.

    While not all local authorities were offering a payment deferral, all we checked with were offering payment plans, where you could work out an affordable repayment schedule with the council.  

    Bill reductions if you're on universal credit, other benefits or a low income

    Council tax reductions are long-standing discounts of up to 100% off bills for those on benefits or a low income. It doesn't matter if you own your own home or rent, or whether you're employed or not. All can apply. Yet what you get depends on:

    • Where you live (each council runs its own scheme)
    • Your circumstances (eg, income, number of children, benefits, residency status)
    • Your income, including savings, pensions and your partner's income
    • If children live with you
    • If other adults live with you

    Some councils may let you backdate the reduction, but by how many months varies by council so you'll need to check, though the sooner you do it, the sooner your bill will be reduced. On top of the discount, in England, you may also get an extra £150 off your bill backed by a £500 million Covid-19 hardship fund. Apply for a council tax reduction at Gov.uk.

    Quick question

    • Sadly there's no gold standard of help here, so what's available to you depends on where you live. For full details of what you can get, you'll need to contact your local authority – use the Gov.uk checker to find yours.

      In addition, it's worth checking you're paying the right amount of council tax in the first place:

      Claim any council tax discounts you're entitled to – for example, people living alone, students and people with 'severe mental impairments' (or living with someone who has) can all get discounts.
      - Also check your home's in the right council tax band (England and Scotland only).

    • If you live in Northern Ireland, you won't have got your rates bill as normal on 1 April. The bill was instead sent in June – though it'll still cover 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. If you pay by monthly direct debit, this would have been updated automatically to collect payments between June 2020 and March 2021.

      If you're in arrears paying rates, 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 NIdirect website.

  4. Help if you're struggling to pay water bills

    image of a water meter

    Water companies in England and Wales have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. The companies are encouraging households with immediate or short-term issues paying their bills to get in contact as soon as possible 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. Some providers can pause your payments for a time. 
    • Flexible payments. Some will reassess your current payment plan, and lower it while you're struggling. 
    • Social tariffs. These are special tariffs each firm offers to reduce or put a cap on what you pay.
    • Help with arrears. Suppliers can wipe arrears if you can agree to make regular payments.
    • Capped tariffs for those on water meters. Via a scheme known as WaterSure, providers offer capped tariffs if you get certain benefits and need to use a lot of water for medical reasons or because you have a certain number of school-age children.
    • Pay directly from benefits. Your bill payment can be taken directly from your benefits.
    • Charitable trusts. Some providers have charitable trusts that offer grants to struggling households.

    We've rounded up the help providers have said they offer below – though what you’ll actually be offered if you’re struggling will depend on your circumstances.

Warning – watch out for coronavirus scams

scams signpost

Lowlife scammers are taking advantage of coronavirus to try to defraud people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

Action Fraud has already identified thousands of reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, with victims' losses totalling more than £5 million. Many of these 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 4,400 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 those pretending to be from the Government, 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.

Received a suspicious email? The National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) has launched its new Suspicious Email Reporting Service to take phishing scams down – all you have to do is forward suspect emails to its report@phishing.gov.uk email address.

Pension holders targeted in spate of scams

One very common scam during the coronavirus crisis has targeted pension holders, saying they can access cash quickly if they transfer their pension. And with many desperate for cash, this scam often finds a target – and victims lose an average of £82,000 through pension scams. Here's what to look out for

  • An out-of-the-blue offer of a free pension review. If someone calls you and says they're from your pension company, or are from a financial adviser offering you a free pension review, NEVER continue with the call.
  • Someone saying they're calling from your pension company. If they say they're from your pension company, say you will call them back, and then look up the company's contact details online or on your policy documents. NEVER call a number they've given to you. If it's a legitimate call, the caller won't mind.
  • If you're under 55 and someone calls with an offer to access your pension, don't continue. You can't access your pension before you're 55 unless you're terminally ill. Anyone offering this isn't legitimate.
  • Someone offering to manage your pension. Similarly, if someone asks you to transfer your pension to their company or put it under their management, do your homework on the company before taking any action. You can check if pension companies or advisers are registered on the FCA Financial Services Register, a public record that shows details of regulated firms, individuals and other bodies. 

Tips to protect yourself against scams

Action Fraud says you can do the following to minimise your chances of being tricked:

  • Be 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.
  • Take care when shopping online. You should always do your research if buying from a company or person you don't know and trust, and possibly ask 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 (see our Section 75 guide).
  • Protect your devices from threats. This includes always installing the latest software and app updates to protect your devices from new threats.

Also see MSE Katie's 20+ coronavirus scams to watch out for blog for more of the known coronavirus-related scams out there and tips to protect yourself from fraudsters.

Have you been scammed?

If you've lost money to fraudsters, you should do the following:

  1. Immediately end all communication with them.
  2. Contact your bank to tell them you've been scammed, and cancel any recurring payments.
  3. Report the scam to the police through the Action Fraud website. You can also call it on 0300 123 2040, but be aware it has a reduced phone service at the moment, so waiting times may be longer than usual.
  4. If you want one-on-one help, you can contact Citizens Advice Scams Action by phone or online chat.