MSE News

Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help

Mortgages & other debts, rental help, energy top-ups & more

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, rent and other bills. This guide runs through what help's available for financial products and other bills. 

Important: The info below is the best we have currently, but as this is a fast-changing situation we're updating this guide all the time. If you've a question that isn't covered below or in the other guides, please email it to us (we can't respond about individual cases 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, taking it from 0.75% to 0.1%, a record low.

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. There's also now support for those with car finance, as well as some forms of high-cost credit, such as payday loans.

It's economic shock therapy that's needed. Many people are worried about how they will be able to afford to pay their bills, or just afford to live. Let's go through what you need to know, product by product...

Mortgage payment holidays on offer if you're struggling to pay – and they're set to be extended

If keeping up with your bills and food on the table has become a challenge and you're finding it hard to pay your mortgage, speak to your lender. In March, banks agreed with the Chancellor that they would offer 'forbearance' (tolerance and help) on mortgages and other loans secured on your mortgage.

This means lenders should offer those struggling a 'payment holiday', allowing customers a temporary break from having to make mortgage payments during this time.

If you're going to apply for a mortgage holiday, it's best to do it online where possible, as lenders' phone lines are very busy. In fact, latest figures from lenders' trade body UK Finance show that 1.82 million customers have taken a payment holiday since the coronavirus crisis began. That's one in six of all mortgages in the UK.

New. Mortgage payment holidays likely to be extended

On Friday 22 May, regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announced proposals to extend mortgage payment holidays. These had four main tenets:

  • Mortgage holders already on a payment holiday should be able to extend it for a further three months. If you can't start making full or part payments on your mortgage once your initial deferral comes to an end, you can ask to extend your payment holiday. If the lender thinks this would land you in financial difficulty, it will be able to deny the payment holiday and offer other help. 
  • Mortgage holders who haven't yet applied for a payment holiday can do so until 31 October 2020. This lets people who are currently making payments but are concerned about the future have more time to make the decision.
  • Mortgage holders will be able to take partial payment holidays. If you can make some payments towards your mortgage, but can't pay the whole amount, you'll be able to come to an agreement with your lender to do so. This is a better option than a full payment holiday as less interest will accrue, meaning future repayments would be lower than if you'd taken a full payment holiday. 
  • Lenders won't be able to repossess properties until after 31 October. The previous ban on this would also be extended. 

The FCA's consultation on the proposals ended on Tuesday (26 May). We'd expect these measures to be rubber-stamped with few changes by the end of the week or the start of next, and would expect to see lenders needing to offer the extended mortgage holidays by the end of the first week of June. Don't contact your lender as it won't be able to offer the help above yet. 

MSE founder Martin Lewis has done an explainer video on the proposed mortgage extensions...

How does a mortgage holiday work and how much could it cost you?

If you take a mortgage holiday you WILL still be charged interest for the time you're not making payments. But you won't have to pay it back immediately – it'll be added on to the total cost of your mortgage and factored into repayments when you start making them again.

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 spreading the cost over your future monthly mortgage payments.
  • Increase your mortgage term, eg, if you've 15 years left now, you'd have 15 years and three/six 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. It'll contact you towards the end of your first three-month deferral to find out if you can resume repayments, and – if possible – give you the options on how you want your payments or mortgage term to change.

However, if your lender can't get in touch with you, it's free to assume that you can restart standard repayments and to decide how it will charge you for the extra interest that's accrued during your payment holiday(s). For many lenders, spreading the cost of the missed payments and extra interest over your future monthly payments is the default. So if your lender contacts you towards the end of your mortgage payment holiday, make sure you talk to it and tell it whether you can resume payments.

To get a rough idea of how much your monthly payments could increase by in this method, try this useful mortgage payment holiday calculator from MoneySupermarket.com.

Mortgage payment holidays won't be marked as missed payments on your credit report – but they could still affect your creditworthiness

The three major credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – have confirmed that customers' credit scores WILL be protected when they have an agreed payment holiday in place. This special measure is called an 'emergency payment freeze' and means a payment holiday won't be reported as a missed payment, protecting your credit history. 

So if you were up to date with your payments before the payment holiday, you'll continue to be up to date throughout. If you were already in arrears, your arrears will be kept at the same level, so the payment holiday months won't be counted as more missed payments.

However, while mortgage payment holidays won't be marked as missed payments on your credit report, they could still have an impact on your wider creditworthiness, as other lenders can still find out about them. This could be through looking at the balances on your mortgage across time on your credit report, though it could also be by looking at bank statements or 'Open Banking' data. As Martin says...

'We wait to see how substantial the impact will be – but those who need a mortgage holiday should still do it'

The FCA has confirmed, sadly, that while credit files shouldn't be impacted by mortgage or other payment holidays, lenders are still allowed to take them into account when making their acceptance decisions.

It's impossible to say yet how widespread this will be or how substantial the impact will be – we'll start to learn that over the next year. Each lender's assessment process is different; it's a dark art that's hidden from the public and never published, so this is likely to be yet another factor applicants will need to navigate.

Certainly many new challenger financial firms talk about their new, more sophisticated customer assessment models, that they believe are better than just relying on credit files. It's that very fact that sparked me to look at this in the first place. And as they will be able to see that someone has temporarily not paid their mortgage, they can spot payment holidays.

My hope is that as these holidays are specifically for the short-term financial hit of coronavirus – and as the practice is so widespread – it won't be used by many firms, and where it is it won't tarnish individuals' credit reputation for too long. But there's no real way to know.

Most importantly, I don't believe this should stop anyone who needs a mortgage holiday from getting one – if it's crucial for cash flow, just do it. Yet for those on the border, who may find it temporarily useful but can cope without it, add this to the fact that interest racks up during the payment holiday and I'd err on the side of caution.

How do I apply for a mortgage payment holiday?

Online is most banks' preferred route as their customer support staff are overwhelmed – however, our table below has the best way to apply for all the big lenders. If unsure, check your lender's website for the best way to contact it.

Make sure you get in touch at the earliest opportunity if you know you're going to get into trouble – the more warning you give, (hopefully) the more breathing space you'll have.

In an emergency response to coronavirus, lenders are allowing homeowners who are up to date with mortgage payments to 'self-certify' when they apply for a mortgage holiday. This essentially means lenders won't need to do a thorough check on your finances, like they normally would when you remortgage – instead they'll rely on you giving an accurate representation of your financial status. You can still get your lender to do a full assessment of your finances if you wish, though.

Warning – mortgage holidays MUST be agreed with your lender

To take a mortgage holiday, whatever you do, don't just stop your direct debit or standing order. Any mortgage holiday MUST be agreed with your lender first. This means you need to contact your lender and make a formal agreement as to how long you wish your 'holiday' to last.
 

If you simply stop your payments without warning this will be recorded as a late payment, which will not only put you into arrears but will also likely affect your credit file (which could make it harder for you to access credit in future). Even if it's a struggle, make sure you keep paying until you can agree the holiday. 

Here's the latest we've heard from lenders about what they're doing:

How are lenders helping mortgage customers?

Lender Waiving fees for missed payments? Offering reduced payments? Offering mortgage holidays? Impact of mortgage holiday? How much notice should I give? (1) How to apply for a mortgage holiday?
Bank of Scotland Yes Yes Yes Increased monthly payments
10 days Phone / Online
Barclays N/A – doesn't charge late fees Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments
9 days Online
Chelsea BS Not charged if on payment hol Yes Yes Increased monthly payments As soon as possible Online
Clydesdale Bank Yes Yes Yes Flexible No notice required Online
Coventry BS Case by case Yes Yes Flexible  7-10 days Online
Halifax Yes Yes Yes Increased monthly payments
10 days Online
HSBC Case by case Yes Yes Speak to lender 7 days Online
Landmark TBC TBC Yes TBC TBC Phone – 0330 159 7141
Lloyds Yes Yes Yes Increased monthly payments
3-5 days Online
Nationwide Case by case Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments 5-7 days Online
NatWest Case by case Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments 5 days Online
NRAM Case by case Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments 10 days Phone
RBS Case by case Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments 5 days Online
Santander Case by case Yes Yes Increased monthly payments 10 days Online
TSB Yes Case by case Yes Increased monthly payments 10 days Online
Virgin Money Yes Yes Yes Flexible No notice required Online
Yorkshire Bank Yes Yes Yes Flexible No notice required Online
Yorkshire BS Not charged if on payment hol Yes Yes Increased monthly payments As soon as possible Online
(1) Some lenders warn that your mortgage holiday may not take effect until the month after you apply.

Quick question

Loans & credit cards – you can get a three-month payment holiday if you're struggling

It's not just mortgages – banks are helping those struggling to repay personal loans and credit cards, offering payment holidays of up to three months for people whose income has been hit. And it's clear that many have been affected – people have asked for payment holidays on almost 900,000 credit cards and 600,000 loans.

People owing money on store cards, catalogue credit, guarantor loans, logbook loans, credit union loans, home-collected credit and community development finance institution (CDFI) loans can also access the same payment holidays. 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 you need to know about credit payment holidays:

  • Three-month payment holidays are available to customers whose finances are affected by coronavirus. So if you're struggling to make payments, or think you will struggle over the next couple of months, your lender needs to help you when you ask.

  • You have until 9 July 2020 to request a payment holiday. If it's granted, you won't need to pay anything towards your loan or credit card for up to three months from the date it's granted.

  • You likely won't need to prove you're struggling. Most lenders are not asking for proof that your finances have been affected by coronavirus, they're essentially taking you at your word. But a payment holiday isn't always a good thing, as...

  • 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.
     
  • Lenders need only give the payment holiday where it's a suitable solution. If you already have debt problems, or there's a chance your income won't recover after the coronavirus crisis is over, the lender can deny you a payment holiday. But if that's the case, it should work with you to find a more suitable solution, such as directing you to debt help, setting up a longer-term repayment plan or waiving interest and charges.

Note that regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) hasn't included peer-to-peer loan providers such as Zopa and Ratesetter in these measures, so the help they provide is down to individual companies. We've added information on these two companies and what they're doing to help in the table. 

While the FCA has told lenders they must only offer payment holidays, some are also waiving fees for missed payments, offering reduced monthly payments or emergency credit limit increases. We've rounded up what lenders are currently offering...

How are lenders helping loan customers?

Lender Waiving fees for missed payments? Offering reduced payments? Offering payment holidays? How do I apply?
Bank of Scotland Yes Yet to respond Yes Online
Barclays N/A – doesn't charge fees No Yes Online
Co-op Bank N/A – doesn't charge fees No Yes Email this PDF form
First Direct No No Yes Email this PDF form
Halifax Yes Yet to respond Yes Online
HSBC N/A – doesn't charge fees Yet to respond Yes, for 3mths Via this online PDF form
Lloyds Yes Yet to respond Yes Online
Nationwide Yes (if on payment holiday) Yes Yes, for 3mths (you'll still need to pay £1/mth) Online
NatWest No No Yes, for up to 3mths Through its app (more info)
Ratesetter N/A – doesn't charge fees
Case-by-case basis
Case-by-case basis
Phone (020 3142 6226) or email
RBS No No Yes, for up to 3mths Through its app (more info)
Santander N/A – doesn't charge fees Yes (1) Yes, for up to 3mths (2) Online
TSB     Yes Case-by-case basis Yes, for up to 3mths Online
Zopa TBC Yes Yes, for up to 3mths Online

(1) You need to apply for a payment holiday, then make 'overpayments' if you can't pay the full amount. (2) Also available to customers who have already missed payment(s).

How are lenders helping credit card customers?

Lender Waiving fees for missed payments? Offering emergency credit limit increases? Offering payment holidays?  How do I apply?
Bank of Scotland Yes Yes ("where responsible") No Online
Barclaycard Yes Yes No  Online
Co-op Bank Yes Yes – depending on circumstances Yes Email this PDF form
First Direct No Yes  Yes – tailored to individual need Via this online PDF form
Halifax Yes Yes ("where responsible") No  Online
HSBC Yes Yes Yes Via this online PDF form
Lloyds Yes Yes ("where responsible") No Online
Nationwide Yes (if on payment holiday) Yes Yes Online
NatWest No  Yes No TBC
RBS Yes  Yes (temporarily) No TBC
Santander Yes No, but you can apply for an increased limit in the usual way Yes, for up to 3mths Online
TSB Case-by-case basis, get in touch Yes Yes Online

Of course, as we always suggest, if you are struggling to meet your debt repayments, and the help available won't get you through it, do seek non-profit debt-counselling help – they can guide you through what is needed. 

Quick questions

You can get one-month payment holidays with no extra interest on payday loans

The FCA has said payday lenders must offer payment holidays for customers who are struggling due to coronavirus and who ask their lender for help. These measures came in on Monday 27 April. 

Payday loan customers can ask for a one-month payment holiday, and crucially no interest will rack up in that time. Lenders can choose to give a longer holiday, though there's no regulatory requirement to do so. They also need to let you apply for a payment holiday until 27 July, so even if you're keeping up with payments now, you'll be able to apply later.

Once the payment holiday is over, payday lenders need to let customers make the deferred payment in an "affordable way", which could be as a single payment after the term of the loan ends, or as several instalments. 

If you tried to get help from your lender before 27 April and it didn't help, it's now worth asking again.

Buy-now-pay-later, pawnbroking and rent-to-own firms must give three-month payment holidays 

The FCA has also said lenders in these three sectors must give three-month payment holidays to customers who are struggling due to coronavirus and who ask for help. 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 of up to three months. If you do, 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 its 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 of up to three months. 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 for as long as the temporary rules are in force. 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 recently 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 can ask for a payment holiday of up to three months here too, though again, 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.

    Rent-to-own and 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.

All these measures have been in place since Monday 27 April. Lenders also need to let you apply for a payment holiday until 27 July, so even if you're keeping up with payments now, you'll be able to apply later.

If you tried to get help from your lender before 27 April and it didn't help, it's worth asking again – as now it has to help.

What if I need to apply for a new credit card or loan?

It's a tricky time to be doing this... here's Martin's view:

Martin: 'If you're in NEED of 0% credit, apply ASAP'

I've heard unconfirmed mutterings (though intuitively it makes sense) that credit card firms are already starting to tighten acceptance criteria, never mind the fact many people's incomes may be compromised. Therefore if you need to cut existing debt costs via 0% balance transfers, do it ASAP.

New borrowing is trickier – normally I'm anti-borrowing, unless for one-off needed, planned, budgeted for expenditure (in which case use our Cheap Loans guide). 

Though right now I'm torn. It's understandable that in these unprecedented times some may want access to a cheap borrowing facility just in case. In which case 0% credit cards will fulfil that, but please be incredibly careful – only use in dire emergency (if you get one, lock it away and pre-define the criteria you'll allow yourself to use it in).

You can now get three-month payment holidays on your car finance

There's now help available for borrowers with car finance plans, who can apply for three-month payment holidays if they're struggling due to coronavirus.

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates this sector, has brought in these measures on hire purchase (HP), personal contract purchase (PCP) and leasing deals, plus any other finance where the loan is secured on the vehicle. It doesn't just apply to cars – it covers van and motorbike finance too. You can get:

  • Three-month payment holidays. If you're financially affected by coronavirus, your lender has to consider offering a three-month payment holiday. This means you don't need to make your scheduled payment, though interest will still accrue during this time.
  • If it thinks a payment holiday isn't suitable, it must offer other help. This may apply if you're already in arrears or if your financial troubles are likely to go on for longer than three months. However, your lender can't say no to the payment holiday and not offer other help. 
  • Lenders can't repossess vehicles if you're struggling due to coronavirus. They won't be able to end the finance agreement or repossess your vehicle due to coronavirus-related payment struggles.

Firms are also expected to "treat customers fairly", and not introduce unfair changes to customers' contracts if they're changing the loan deal to spread the cost of the extra interest over the remaining term. For example, if car prices depreciate temporarily due to coronavirus, your lender shouldn't use this to recalculate your PCP balloon payment (the large payment at the end you need to pay if you want to own the car). 

Similarly, if a customer isn't able to pay their balloon payment at the end of the deal but wants to keep their vehicle, the lender will be expected to "work with the customer" to find a solution.

How do I request a payment holiday from my car finance lender?

Some car finance lenders will let you make the payment request on their websites, such as Black Horse and Santander Consumer Finance. Others will need you to ring them, but all have information online about the best way to get in contact.

Many motor finance lenders are experiencing high call volumes, so if you don't get through first time, keep trying. Remember, your lender now has to help with a payment holiday or other suitable support. 

You have until 27 July 2020 to apply for a payment holiday on your car finance, so the option's there for a little while if you're meeting payments now, but start to struggle a little further down the road. 

Quick questions

Overdrafts – get up to £500 interest-free if you're struggling

For weeks we'd warned that overdrafts were the new danger debt – with interest rates set to rise to 40%, double those found on high-street credit cards.

These huge interest rates had been brought about by a change by regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which meant banks had to replace daily/monthly overdraft fees with a simple interest rate – the idea being to allow people to compare overdrafts more easily. The changes couldn't have come at a worse time, as it turned out, as they were due to be implemented on or before 6 April.

Now, though, there's temporary relief for everyone from these rates. In early April, the FCA announced it would end the patchwork of help banks were offering on overdrafts to make sure that those struggling got the help they needed, and that – temporarily – no one would pay more under the new system. Here's what's on offer now:

  • Banks must give up to the first £500 of a customer's overdraft interest-free for three months to customers struggling due to coronavirus. If you're struggling financially due to coronavirus (or think you'll struggle in future), you can ask your bank to make the first £500 of your overdraft interest-free for at least three months. If your overdraft limit is less than £500, your bank must give you your whole overdraft interest-free.

    Some banks are offering this to all overdrawn customers, though, not just those struggling who ask.

  • Banks must ensure that no one pays more for their overdraft than before. As we say above, the move to charge interest rates for overdrafts left some facing higher charges. The FCA's ordered banks to ensure no one pays more for their overdraft than they would have done under the old system for the next three months. 

The banks needed to have put these measures in place by 14 April, though some banks have gone over and above the FCA's minimum standards in the bullets above. In fact, banks have added interest-free buffers to more than 27 million current accounts.  

We've rounded up what the big banks are doing here (remember, banks don't have to give £500 interest-free to everyone, though some have chosen to): 

How are providers currently helping all customers with overdrafts?

Provider Do you need to ask for the £500 0% buffer? (1) Interest rate charged on non-0% debt
Bank of Scotland No, it's automatic 39.9%
Barclays No, all interest automatically waived till 30 Apr; £750 automatically interest-free from 1 May All interest waived till 30 Apr; max 19.51% from 1 May to 9 Jul
Clydesdale Bank Yes, must request Max 39.9% (anyone worse off under new charges will be refunded the difference)
Co-op Bank No, it's automatic Max 18.9%
First Direct No, it's automatic 19.9%
Halifax No, it's automatic 39.9%
HSBC No, it's automatic 19.9%
Lloyds No, it's automatic Max 39.9%
M&S Bank No, it's automatic 19.9%
Monzo Yes, must request by 14 July (2) Normal interest rate: 19%, 29% or 39%. Capped to equivalent of previous of 50p – £1.50 a day charges
Nationwide Yes, must request. Entire overdraft will be interest-free, even if over £500 18.9%
NatWest Yes, must request Max 19.89%
RBS Yes, must request Max 19.89%
Santander No, it's automatic 19.9%
Starling Bank Yes, must request by 30 June (3) 15% if you had an overdraft before 1 Apr (15%, 25% or 35% otherwise)
TSB No, it's automatic 19.84%
Virgin Money Yes, must request Max 39.9% (anyone worse off under new charges will be refunded the difference)
Yorkshire Bank Yes, must request Max 39.9% (anyone worse off under new charges will be refunded the difference)

(1) Assumes you have an authorised overdraft with a £500+ limit. If limit is less, it'll all be interest-free, though you must request where it's not automatic. (2) You must use Monzo as your main account, already have an authorised overdraft, and have had your finances impacted by coronavirus. Contact Monzo's customer service to apply. (3) You need to have an authorised overdraft with Starling and have suffered a drop in income due to coronavirus since 10 March. Contact Starling's customer service to apply.

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

More flexibility added to IVA and trust deed payment plans

Since 20 April, new guidance from the Insolvency Service has meant that people with individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs) have more options and flexibility if they are in financial difficulty as a result of coronavirus, for example, if they've had a reduction in income or an increase in expenses.

If you've got an IVA – a legally binding debt repayment plan – and need extra help, currently your supervisor can 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. The new guidance has been designed to increase the flexibility of variations and gives situations where the IVA firm can provide more help immediately with no need for approval from creditors. The new rules allow:

  • Your IVA supervisor to approve up to an extra three months of payment breaks (usually you can take up to nine months during the term of the IVA).

  • Your supervisor to approve a reduction in your monthly payments by 25% (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 in your case.

You have until 20 October 2020 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 is there to help you. 

We've more information on IVAs and how they work in our Debt Solutions guide – but if you're in debt crisis, you should always, always take free debt advice before taking any serious formal steps. Citizens Advice, National Debtline and StepChange offer support and are there to help, not judge.

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.

Bankruptcy application fees in Scotland reduced and completely removed for some

Since 27 May, new legislation in Scotland means that people receiving certain benefits who are applying for bankruptcy (also known as 'sequestration') won't pay any application fee at all.

The changes come as a response to the coronavirus crisis and will initially last until 30 September 2020, with a possibility of two six-month extensions.

You'll be eligible to pay no fees for your bankruptcy application if you receive any of the following benefits:

  • Universal credit
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • State pension credit
  • Child tax credits
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Working tax credit, as long as you're also receiving child tax credit, there is a disability or severe disability element to your tax credit and your gross annual income is £18,000 or less

The fees for those who don't qualify for the exemption have also been reduced as follows:

  • The fee for 'minimum asset' bankruptcies is now £50 (was £90). This is an option if you have few assets (see full criteria).
  • The fee for 'full administration' bankruptcies is now £150 (was £200). You have to apply for this type of bankruptcy if you don't meet the criteria for minimum asset bankruptcy.

The Insolvency Services for England & Wales and Northern Ireland have confirmed that there are no current plans to change the administration fees for bankruptcy in their jurisdictions.

Quick questions

Savings & investments – should you get cash out?

Like mortgages, the savings market has been thoroughly shaken up. Rates are likely to drop as the Bank of England has made massive base rate cuts. But at the same time there have been moves to give people access to formerly locked-in savings if needed. Here's info on both:

How have savings been affected by the base rate cuts?

Rates are holding up surprisingly well since the base rate cuts, though we don't know how long that will last for. So you may be able to get in ahead of the curve with fixed products, where once opened the rate is locked in. While there's always the slim chance rates may not fall (or even improve), fixing definitely gives you certainty.

Yet with fixed savings, you lock your money away for a set time for a set rate, though there are a few accounts that'll let you access the cash, usually for an interest penalty – so it's best to do this with money you're sure you won't need. See top fixed savings for your options.

Banks will allow you to access 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 now need their savings to cover living costs.

It's worth noting though that with interest rates dropping, your money may well be locked away at a rate that's now impossible to get, so only do this if you really need to. 

Lifetime ISA withdrawal penalty dropped from 25% to 20%

On 1 May, the Treasury announced that people would be able to withdraw their cash from Lifetime ISAs without having to pay the full withdrawal charge. Currently, 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% between 6 March 2020 and 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%. Anyone who has withdrawn their money since 6 March and who paid a 25% charge will have the difference refunded.

If you've saved in a cash Lifetime ISA, this means you'll be able to get all the money back that you put in. For stocks & shares ISAs, what you'll be able to get back depends on how well your investments have done. See our Lifetime ISA guide for full information on how Lifetime ISAs work. 

How are pension investments and stocks and shares affected?

Over to Martin for his view on this one...

'Markets are unpredictable, but day-to-day moves are irrelevant to most'

With stocks and shares or pension investments, there are only two prices that count: the price you buy at and the price you sell at. Markets move up and down all the time, and you won't lose money until you crystallise by selling.

The markets have gone down – they may bounce back in a mild outbreak, or they may stay down for a long time if this becomes a long, systemic outbreak and hits the economy. Markets are unpredictable and there aren't any answers – but for most people (unless you are imminently about to sell or take your pension and convert your investment into cash), the day-to-day moves on the back of coronavirus are mostly irrelevant. It's only relevant if you're looking to crystallise or you need the money now.

Taking the money out right now may be a really good idea if the markets drop further, or may be a really bad idea if the markets recover. And just like always with markets, no one knows which of those two eventualities is going to happen. So unless you're someone who plays the markets, I would carry on with what I was planning to do anyway.

Renters – you can't be evicted for at least three months if struggling due to coronavirus

If you'll struggle to pay rent during the coronavirus outbreak you should speak to your landlord as soon as possible to let them know your situation and work out a repayment plan. Government guidance is "encouraging tenants and landlords to work together to put in place a rent payment scheme".

We've seen this guidance be interpreted in different ways though. While some landlords are proactively contacting tenants and reassuring them that they can work out new repayment arrangements if they suffer financial hardship, others are playing hardball, and not offering to make any adjustments. For example...

  • One person got in contact to say: "My husband spoke to his landlord about reducing our rent. He may have to take time off work as our son has an underlying health condition. Our landlord said he couldn't reduce it."

  • But in more positive news, one user received an email from their landlord saying that if their income were to drop, the landlord "would gladly discuss dropping rent over this period".

If you're struggling, also check to see if you're receiving all the financial help you're entitled to, which may include the universal credit benefit. The Government announced on Friday 20 March that it's increasing the housing allowance part of universal credit so that the local housing allowance would cover at least 30% of the lowest rents in your area. See our Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits guide for more on universal credit.

Can I be evicted if I can't pay my rent on time?

The Government has said landlords in England and Wales will need to give three months' notice before starting eviction proceedings. (It's worth noting though that this change won't affect eviction proceedings already under way.)

Scotland's emergency coronavirus legislation will also prevent private and social tenants being evicted for up to six months, by increasing the amount of notice the landlord needs to give before they can take steps to take over the property. We're still awaiting news for Northern Ireland.

Beyond these three or six-month points, you'll be expected to work with your landlord to establish an affordable repayment plan which takes your circumstances into account.

The Government has also said that existing rules for social landlords dealing with rent arrears will be extended to include private landlords too. This is to "support engagement" between landlords and tenants and help them solve disputes. It will ask landlords to be compassionate and allow tenants to stay in their homes wherever possible – while associations representing local government and housing associations have already said that no social renter should be evicted due to coronavirus. 

What's more, private landlords are also now eligible for a three-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties. Technically they needn't pass this on to their tenants, but morally they should and most will, so speak to your landlord if you need help.

You can now move home in England, though not in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland

Coronavirus has hit those trying to move home, as well as people trying to get a mortgage for a property purchase or remortgage. The home purchase and moving market ground to a halt as mortgages and remortgages often couldn't take place as the home was unable to be valued, and moves couldn't take place as removal firms couldn't work. The Government estimates 450,000 moves were placed on hold. 

But in England the home purchase and moving market has now been given the go-ahead to restart, with estate agents allowed to conduct in-person viewings, and surveyors allowed to inspect and value homes.

In England? Here's what you need to know...

Housing Minister Robert Jenrick announced on 12 May that the home-move market could restart again subject to social-distancing guidelines, ie, keeping two metres apart from other people.

In practice, the new guidance means that:

  • Estate agents' offices can reopen, and estate agents can conduct viewings by appointment only with prospective buyers or renters, though initial viewings should still be done virtually where possible. 
  • Removal firms can operate again, meaning property moves on hold that were reliant on a removal firm can now take place.
  • Surveyors and home-valuers can now go in to homes to do surveys, so many property purchases and remortgages can go ahead.
  • Fitters and other tradespeople can work in properties, meaning appliances and services can be installed or fixed before the occupants move in.

The Government has issued guidance to these firms on how to conduct business while operating under social-distancing guidelines. 

In Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? No changes as yet

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments have not changed their lockdown advice, meaning home moves continue to be on hold. 

You can't move home and surveyors can't visit homes to conduct surveys, meaning purchases can't be completed. Land registries in the three countries are also not operating or are not offering their usual service.

Online home viewings can continue, but estate agents can't conduct in-person viewings.  

Updated. Mortgage market tightens for homebuyers and remortgagers – though there's now light on the horizon for some

Many lenders reacted to the coronavirus crisis and lockdown by withdrawing many mortgages from sale, making it harder for borrowers with lower equity or deposits to get a new deal. Much of this was due to the fact that lenders weren't able to send valuation agents to people's homes to assess their value.

Lenders have tightened criteria by only lending where you have a decent deposit or equity, and where the property is relatively "normal". So if you're looking at new-builds, flats, high-value properties, or where the property's built mainly from non-standard materials (eg, wood, concrete), you'll now have much less choice of mortgage, especially if you're in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, where valuations are still on hold. 

Lenders almost across the board have pulled mortgage deals at 95% loan-to-value (ie, the percentage of the property value you're loaned as a mortgage) for first-time buyers and home-movers, and there are very few available at 90%. Many lenders now have a maximum 80% or 85% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which makes things difficult if you're a new buyer, or if you got your first mortgage at 95% LTV and haven't made many inroads into that debt.

But the market's loosening again now...

If you live, or are buying a home, in England, there's good news. Since mid-May, valuers and surveyors can now do on-the-spot valuations. This in turn means mortgage lenders can once again have more confidence in valuations, and some have responded by increasing the loan-to-value ratio they're prepared to lend at.

Yorkshire Building Society, having put its maximum LTV down to 75% for new purchases, is once again increasing that to 90% (apart from for new-builds where its max is 85% LTV). It's also able to start lending again on flats and properties built with non-standard materials. HSBC has started booking in valuations again, having only ever withdrawn its 95% LTV mortgages.

Nevertheless, the mortgage market remains squeezed with fewer products available. So if you're looking for a new mortgage, or a remortgage, a good broker is worth their weight in gold, whichever country of the UK you're living in. Brokers have the latest information on LTV ratios for each bank, and will be able to match you with lenders that are most likely the best fit for your circumstances.  

Mortgage lenders offer three-month mortgage extensions if the move's impacted by coronavirus

Lenders have agreed to help home-movers who have exchanged contracts and agreed completion dates by offering mortgage extensions of up to three months where the move's been impacted by coronavirus. 

UK Finance, the mortgage lenders' trade body, said lenders are offering to extend mortgage terms by up to three months. You'll need to speak to your mortgage lender though to establish how exactly that would work in practice, as this could mean:

  • Keeping the terms of the existing mortgage offer and simply extending the offer expiry date
  • Pushing back the start date of a mortgage deal, or
  • Extending the mortgage deal to expire three months later

For more, read our Home-movers to be offered mortgage extensions MSE News story.

Some mortgage holders saw payments drop in April due to the base rate falls

Exactly what happens as a result of March's base rate cuts depends on what type of mortgage you have: 

  • Tracker mortgages: Here you should have seen the full 0.65 percentage-point drop (from the two base rate cuts combined), worth roughly £40/month per £100,000 of mortgage outstanding. Use our Mortgage Calculator to see exact savings for your situation. 

  • Variable-rate mortgages: You should also have seen a cut, usually – but not always – by the full 0.65 percentage points. See our lender-by-lender rate cuts table for amounts and timings. 

  • Fixed-rate mortgages: If you're on a fix, as the name suggests, your rate is set and won't have changed.

Energy bill help, incl how to top up 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. 

Topping up prepaid energy may be difficult if self-isolating, but some firms will help

The Government and energy suppliers have agreed to emergency measures to help prepayment customers unable to top up during the pandemic, including posting cards loaded with emergency credit to those who are self-isolating, adding discretionary credit to your meter and allowing you to nominate someone to top up for you. 

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

If you can't leave home to top up at your usual shop, Ofgem suggests you arrange for a trusted person to take your card and do it for you (it may need disinfecting first), and leave your meter box unlocked if it's outside your home.

And if you can afford it, and you're not self-isolating already, energy firms are encouraging people to try to top up a little more than usual each time to try to build up some credit.

Ultimately, suppliers will deal with issues on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing you can do if you have to self-isolate or are struggling to pay your bill due to coronavirus is to contact your provider as soon as you can.

Company-by-company help for prepaid energy customers

Here's what the prepay energy providers have committed to so far:

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.
Company-by-company help for standard credit-meter energy customers

The Government has also moved to help those on standard credit meters who are struggling.

Most importantly, your supply won't be cut off – disconnections of standard credit meters have been completely suspended. What's more, all energy suppliers have agreed to provide support to anyone in financial distress, which can include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused.   

Exactly what help suppliers will offer will depend on your individual circumstances, but here's what firms have told us about the measures they can offer to some customers:

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. 

Do a whole of market comparison via our Cheap Energy Club to see how much you could save by switching – many can save over £340/year by switching from the average big six standard tariff.

Need extra support? Sign up to the Priority Services Register 

Vulnerable customers (see who counts below) can also sign up to the Priority Services Register with their supplier or network operator. If you're on the register, you'll be eligible for certain free services, including:

  • Advanced notice of planned power cuts.
  • Priority support in an emergency (such as alternative heating facilities if your supply is interrupted).
  • 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.

What if coronavirus has stopped me having a smart meter fitted?

Providers put the installation of smart meters on hold during lockdown, with engineers only able to support customers in emergency situations, such as a loss of supply.

But with lockdown restrictions beginning to be eased, some suppliers are now gradually starting to install smart meters again. So far, Ovo and SSE have resumed installations, while Npower is set to start on Monday 1 June. At the moment, it's in England only and in limited numbers, and they won't install them if anyone in your household is self-isolating, in a higher-risk group or have had symptoms in the last month.

Tariffs that require smart meters are still available from suppliers yet to resume installing – you'll just be contacted to have them fitted when the situation allows. See our Smart Meters guide for more information on what they are, and whether you can get them. 

Working from home? Claim tax back on additional home expenses, eg, electricity

If you're currently working from home due to coronavirus restrictions, you can claim for increased costs as a result, eg, heating and electricity. Clearly, right now millions are required to work at home so this applies.

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.

Broadband and TV packages help, incl switchers' info and TV sport refunds

Many are asking whether they can still switch to a different broadband provider, or what to do if they'll struggle to pay their bill. Plus, we've news of how to pause TV sport subscription costs. 

Can I still switch broadband provider?

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. 

However, the small number of people switching from Virgin Media (which uses cable) to a provider using the Openreach network (which is most other providers including BT, Plusnet, Shell, Sky and Vodafone) will likely have to wait a little while. This is because Openreach engineers are only just starting a phased return of installations after they were put on hold due to social distancing.

But if you're out of contract, see if you can haggle your costs down

What help's available if I can't pay my broadband bill?

If you're struggling to pay your bill, a number of providers including BT, Sky and Vodafone have told us they'll help. We don't have specifics on this help yet, but all providers say that anyone who's struggling should contact them as soon as possible to discuss their options. 

If you're in Hull, KCOM have told us that it's removing all data caps and will not disconnect anyone for non-payment of bills. It will also not charge any late payment fees and will review this each month.

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.

"If you are struggling, we advise you to speak to your provider in the first instance to discuss options."

New. Sky Sports and BT Sport to start charging again in June – but you may still be able to apply for a small discount

Sky Sports and BT Sport let customers apply to stop paying their subscriptions while there was no live sport on during March, April and May. As the mood music from the sports world is a measured return to competitive matches, particularly in the Premier League, both channels have said they'll restart charging customers in June.

Sky has confirmed that customers who have 'paused' their Sky Sports subscriptions are set to be billed again from Friday 19 June, assuming moves to kick off live sport again go ahead as planned. You won't need to do anything – it'll happen automatically.

However, we're checking with Sky whether you're still able to pause your subscription, and whether you'd get a part refund for May. 

BT has said it'll extend its offer of bill credits into June, though that month's bill credit will only be for 50% of your usual bill. 

If you made a claim when BT was offering one month's bill credit, you don't need to claim again – you'll automatically have got May's bill credit, and will get the 50% credit for June.

But like with Sky, you can't backdate claims, so if you claim now, you wouldn't be able to get a backdated credit for April (we're checking if you can still get one for May and will update this guide when we know for sure). 

Quick questions

Netflix, Amazon and others are 'throttling' video streaming

To help ease the strain on the broadband network, a number of streaming services are lowering what's known as their 'streaming bitrate', to reduce the amount of data needed to watch something online. 

Bitrate doesn't affect the resolution you watch in (HD, 4K etc) – it's more to do with the amount of data streamed per second, so usually a higher bitrate makes very fast-moving images appear less blocky.

Netflix is one of the firms doing this – it's cut the data used by 25%. Some people pay up to £6/mth extra for Netflix's premium subscription, which promises ultra HD (4K) streaming. If that's you, Netflix says you shouldn't notice any difference in quality as it usually streams at a higher bitrate than is required anyway – it therefore says it won't be offering any customers on a higher-cost package a refund.

However, if you do notice a problem or are unhappy with the change, you're not locked into a contract and so can downgrade your package or cancel your subscription at any time. See more info in 18 Netflix Hacks.

Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV+ are also lowering the streaming bitrate by 25%. Again this won't affect the resolution of the image so you'll still get HD or 4K (where available). Meanwhile YouTube will now be playing videos in standard definition by default – though you can still manually select HD if you wish.

TV licence charges for over-75s to be delayed

The BBC has announced it is delaying charging some over-75s for TV licences until August, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

A rule change meaning that free TV licences for the over-75s will be restricted to those who receive the pension credit benefit was set to come into effect on 1 June 2020. But it has now been delayed until 1 August 2020.

The BBC says it will "keep the issue under review" as the situation continues to evolve.

See our BBC delays introduction of over-75 licence fee charge MSE News story for full information.

Help with other household bills

Coronavirus has had a huge impact on many people's ability to keep up with their household bills. Here we look at what help's available with other costs, such as council tax and water bills.

Struggling with council tax? Speak to your local authority – you may be able to take a council tax 'holiday'

The Local Government Association (which represents councils in England and Wales) has told us that all local authorities in these countries are putting 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 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 April and May's payments back so payments started in June, 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.

Postponing debt collection on outstanding bills

All councils are postponing council debt collection or enforcement for payments of outstanding bills for the foreseeable future. So if you're already in arrears (or you're about to go into arrears) the council can't send bailiffs round, or call you up to try to collect the debt.

How do I check what my council is offering?

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).

Rates bills in Northern Ireland delayed until June

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

If you're in arrears 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.

Struggling with water bills? There's help available

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.

Company-by-company help for those struggling to pay their water bills

How water companies can help

Provider Payment break Flexible payments Social tariff Pay with benefits Capped tariffs Arrears help Charitable trusts
Water and sewerage companies
Anglian Water Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Dwr Cymru Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Hafren Dyfrdwy Yes - Yes Yes Yes - Yes
Northumbrian Water Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Severn Trent Water Yes - Yes Yes Yes - Yes
South West Water - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Southern Water Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Thames Water - - Yes Yes Yes - Yes
United Utilities Yes - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wessex Water - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Yorkshire Water - - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Water only (you'll usually be billed for sewerage by one of the companies above as well)
Affinity Water Yes - Yes Yes Yes - -
Bournemouth Water - Yes Yes Yes Yes - -
Bristol Water - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Essex and Suffolk Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
Portsmouth Water - Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes -
SES Water - - Yes Yes Yes - -
South East Water - - Yes Yes Yes - Yes
South Staffordshire - Yes Yes Yes Yes - Yes

In vulnerable circumstances? Sign up to the Priority Services Register

All water firms in England and Wales have schemes that allow customers to register for free additional support if they can't leave their home, have limited mobility, have sight, speech, hearing or cognitive impairment, or have a serious illness or a mental health condition. 

Help includes: 

  • Uninterrupted supply of water, even during wider-scale service interruptions. 
  • Help managing and paying bills, including home visits, reading meters and providing alternative bill formats such as Braille or additional languages.
  • Help identifying that the person at the door is a genuine water company employee.

Some mobile firms are giving free calls to customers...

Mobile phone users have been offered extra data and free calls by some firms to help them keep in touch during the pandemic. While some of those offers have come to an end, others are still available:

  • iD Mobile is offering free unlimited calls to anyone aged 70 or over who doesn't already have them as part of their plan, until Saturday 13 June.

  • O2 says all its pay-monthly customers including those on Sim-only contracts will get unlimited minutes to mobile and landline numbers. There's no set end date for this, but O2 will let customers know when it's coming to an end.

... plus extra help for NHS workers

A couple of mobile firms have offered a little extra help for NHS workers:

  • EE  Until 9 October 2020, EE is offering unlimited data to pay-monthly customers who work for the NHS. Sign up using your NHS email address (you'll need to access emails to this address to verify it).

  • O2 – Pay-monthly customers (incl Sim only) will get 10GB extra each month for three months. To sign up, email O2 from your NHS email address with your name and mobile number before Friday 12 June. It'll text you when it's added the extra data.

  • Tesco Mobile – Until Friday 31 July, pay-monthly Tesco Mobile customers can apply to get free bundles of 500GB data and 5,000 minutes. But you have to apply through your workplace, which needs to submit your details to NHS Business Services. It'll notify Tesco Mobile that you're eligible and you'll get a text when it's added the extra data.

  • Vodafone – Customers on contract and Sim-only deals who are registered on the Vodafone Advantage NHS discount scheme will automatically be given free unlimited mobile data for six months, though if it doesn't know you work for the NHS, you'll need to apply by Saturday 6 June via the Vodafone app.

Three is offering new customers an unlimited data Sim on a one-month rolling contract for £18/mth. This will be available through Health Service Discounts and usually costs £26/mth. See our Cheap Sims guide to see if it can be beaten.

You can now claim child benefit for newborns before registering their birth

Child benefit lets you claim £21.05 a week for a first child, and £13.95 a week for additional children, though you'll need to be earning less than £50,000 to be able to get the payments in full and less than £60,000 to get anything (both of you will need to earn less if you both work). It's a complicated system for some (especially those earning over the £50k threshold), so see our Child Benefit guide for full details. 

However much you earn, you usually need to register your child's birth before you can claim child benefit for them. But as many registry offices are closed due to coronavirus, you currently don’t need to register the birth before claiming. This applies until further notice to all newborns who are not yet registered.

If you’re a first-time parent wanting to register for child benefit, you need to do the following:

  1. Fill in the usual CH2 claim form – you’ll need you and your partner’s personal info including National Insurance numbers and your child’s details. Note that you won't be able to provide all the details asked for in Section 3 about your child's birth certificate. Instead...
  2. Make sure you add a note to say that you haven’t been able to register the birth due to Covid-19.
  3. Send the form by post to: Child Benefit Office, Washington, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE88 1ZD.

You will need to send the birth certificate later on when you have it so your claim can be fully checked. 

Already claim child benefit for an older child?

If you already claim child benefit for another child and want to add your newborn, you can add their details over the phone on 0300 200 3100. You'll just need your National Insurance number, or existing child benefit reference number, and to tell HMRC that you haven’t been able to register the birth due to Covid-19.

Coronavirus insurance need-to-knows, incl MoneySaving tips

While you'll need (or want) to keep paying for most insurances, coronavirus has had an effect here too, and not just on travel insurance (see our travel guide for your rights there). We've pulled together some tips on what you need to do about insurance, what it will cover, and whether you may be able to save money on any policies.

New. Regulator confirms insurance help, including reviewing the cover provided and payment holidays of up to three months

The Financial Conduct Authority, which regulates the insurance industry, has confirmed customers who are struggling to pay insurance premiums due to coronavirus, or who've had a change in lifestyle resulting from it, will be able to ask for help. This could include reviewing their cover level to potentially reduce premiums or payment holidays of up to three months.

The measures cover all types of general and protection insurance, which means it covers car, van and motorbike insurance, home insurance, travel insurance, boiler cover, income protection insurance, critical illness cover, life insurance and private medical insurance, 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.

What help can I get from my insurer if I'm struggling or my circumstances have changed?

If you've been affected by coronavirus, for example your usual income has dropped or you're driving less as you're not going to work, this is the help that may be available from your insurer:

  • It can reassess the level of cover the insurance provides. If a customer contacts their insurer, it should assess if the insurance is still suitable. For example, if a car insurance customer is now driving many fewer miles, the insurer should look at lowering the mileage covered by the policy, which could result in the customer benefiting from a lower premium (or a refund if they pay annually). 

  • It can remove any un-needed extras on the policy. Many insurance policies come with "add-ons". For example, people may have taken key cover on top of their car insurance which they no longer need as they're not driving. Insurers should see whether these extras could be removed and if so, take them off and reduce premiums accordingly. 

  • It can waive admin fees for changes to cover levels. Some insurers charge admin fees if a customer makes changes like the ones above and they're not at renewal. Most insurers we've spoken to have removed these fees if a customer contacts them in financial difficulty or they're making changes resulting from their lifestyle changing due to coronavirus. 

  • It can waive cancellation fees. If the customer decides that even with cheaper insurance and / or a payment holiday, that they want to cancel the policy, most firms are not charging cancellation fees if someone's struggling. Plus, the FCA advises that if the customer wants to take out the insurance again at a later date, they shouldn't be penalised for having cancelled.

If the insurance can't be made cheaper under the review, or reducing the premium doesn't help with your ability to pay, then your insurer should look at offering:

  • One to three month payment holidays. If you're still struggling to pay monthly premiums because your finances have been affected by coronavirus, the insurer should look at offering a payment holiday. However, insurers don't have to do this, for example, if you're close to renewal - though they should then offer other help and forbearance to help you.

    However, if you take a payment holiday, most insurers have told us interest will still accrue during it, so only get one if you really need to. 

Cover can be adjusted on a short-term basis, for example, until coronavirus restrictions are eased or lifted, or on a longer-term basis, likely to be until the policy expires. If cover is adjusted on a short-term basis, providers are required to reassess the cover when the temporary period ends to ensure customers aren't under-insured.

Insurers need to have this help in place by Monday 18 May, and customers can apply for help under these measures at any time up until 18 August.

Insurance industry told to look at whether cover still provides "value" to customers.

Announced jointly with the measures to help customers who are struggling, detailed above, the FCA has also told insurers to look at whether customers paying for insurance products are getting "value" from their insurance, and if not, to look at ways they may be able to recompense the customer, whether that involves delivering benefits in a different way, providing comparable benefits, reducing premiums while the service is not being offered, or giving refunds of premiums already paid. 

Examples of policies which may be affected include boiler cover with servicing included which now can't take place, or a private medical insurance policy where customers can no longer access operations and specialists.

This consultation is now closed, and will come in to force by "the end of May" if approved. We'll update this guide when there's more information.

Working from home? You only need to tell your home/contents insurer if you've brought stock home or have business visitors

We've checked with a raft of major home insurers including Axa, Aviva, Churchill, Direct Line, Esure, Hastings, LV and More Than. All have said during the coronavirus crisis period 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 them. 

This applies if you're doing clerical work – generally defined as working on a laptop 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 which 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 home insurance guide. 

Life insurance and income protection insurance should cover coronavirus – critical illness policies won't

Whether or not you're protected for claims relating to coronavirus depends on what kind of insurance you have:

  • Life insurance and income protection insurance SHOULD cover coronavirus. If you have a life insurance or income protection policy in place you should be covered for any claims related to coronavirus. This is because these policies are usually based on declaring any existing conditions – but if you have an existing policy, you couldn't have declared coronavirus as a condition before now so that won't be an issue.

    It is still possible to take out a new policy to protect yourself. If you are looking at taking out a new policy – either life insurance or income protection – it is likely you'll be asked additional questions, such as whether you've already tested positive for Covid-19, have had symptoms or have been told to self-isolate. If you have, an exclusion may be applied.

  • Critical illness cover WON'T apply to coronavirus. If you have critical illness cover, you will not be covered for Covid-19 claims, as it isn't considered a critical illness. If, however you developed a serious illness/condition as a result of coronavirus, that could be considered as a possible claim.

  • Getting accident, sickness and unemployment cover is now tricky. For those seeking accident and sickness cover, it is still possible to get it but many insurers are no longer offering unemployment cover as an option, or no longer accepting new applications, or imposing additional exclusions (ie, claims may not be made unless you have been unemployed for at least a couple of months from the start date of your policy).

For full help on the ins and outs of this kind of cover, see our Life Insurance guide.

If you're driving a lot less, you may be able to save on vehicle insurance

There are two main ways you can do this, and which you look at will depend on how much you're using your car.

  • 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.

    Whether this is worth doing depends on how long lockdown will last – and we just don't know. If it's just weeks, this may be too much effort for a small saving.

    For more information, including how to do this and how to restart when lockdown's over see how to Sorn.

  • 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 key changes that may save you money:

    a) substantially reducing estimated annual mileage
    b) telling 'em 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?

Admiral & LV to offer drivers refunds of up to £50 their insurance premiums

Admiral Group insurers, incl its Admiral, Bell, Diamond and Elephant brands, have announced all car and van insurance customers who had a policy on Mon 20 Apr will get an auto £25 refund as people are driving less.

LV has also announced it will give refunds to some car and motorbike policy holders of between £20 and £50, though you'll need to have had your income affected by coronavirus to claim (see more in our LV refunds news story). 

We've asked other big firms – including Aviva and Axa – if they'll follow suit, but to no avail so far. We'll update this guide when we know more.

Tell your insurers of major changes to your circumstances 

If major things change, such as sadly losing your job (no need if you're furloughed), or if you have new convictions or medical issues, you should notify your car insurer. See what must I tell my insurer mid-term?

Can I get a rebate on my private medical insurance premiums?

The private medical sector is currently supporting the NHS in its response to the coronavirus pandemic – for example by providing hospitals, staff, beds and equipment.

This means there will be less capacity for private treatment, with some planned procedures delayed. 

Private medical insurers are expected to pay out less in claims as a result of the situation. Some, including Axa, Bupa, The Exeter, Saga and WPA have already said they’ll pass any extra financial benefit to customers.

Not-for-profit insurer WPA has said it will refund an amount equivalent to 40% of your monthly premium, rounded to the nearest £5. It's also expecting to make more rebates in future months as it gets a clearer picture of how much it's saving from the decreased numbers of claims. We will update this guide when we know more. 

For the other insurers, there are fewer details on how much will be rebated and when, with Axa saying it could even take until 2022 to get the money back to its customers. 

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

Help for students, incl loans, rent, tuition fees plus applying for next year's finance

The Student Loans Company has confirmed that students will (or have already got) their maintenance loans or grants for the summer term as normal.

But if you're in hardship, even with that payment, then check if your university has a hardship fund you can apply to.

Do I need to pay rent for the final term?

Many students won't have gone back to their university accommodation for the third term, particularly as most institutions have suspended all face-to-face teaching.

Some universities such as UCL in London have said they haven't charged accommodation fees for students who aren't living in halls in the summer term. Newcastle University has said that students living in university-owned accommodation were released from contracts on 29 March provided they'd followed university advice to return home, emptied their room and returned keys.

Policies do differ between universities though, so if in doubt, contact your university to see what they're doing and whether you still need to pay your hall costs.

I'm renting from a landlord, what about me?

If you're in private rental accommodation, you've probably signed a tenancy until the end of the academic year, so it's likely you'll have to pay the agreed rent until the end of the contract. However, talk to your landlord – for example, if bills are included and none of you will be there, see if the landlord will agree to reduce the amount you pay.

If you can't pay the rent... well, you've the same rental rights as everyone else at this time, so you can't be evicted. Again, good communication is key, so if this is the case, explain your circumstances to your landlord, so at least they're informed. 

Will I get a tuition fee refund if my university isn't running face-to-face classes?

We checked a number of universities and all tell us that they're delivering teaching and that learning resources available online, so they don't have plans to issue any refunds for tuition fees for the 2019/20 academic year.

Government ministers have now said that students in England will have to pay full tuition fees in the 2020/21 academic year whether or not universities are back to face-to-face teaching by the autumn. The Welsh Government has also said there won't be a reduction in tuition fees next year for students studying there. The Northern Irish Government also hasn't directed universities to waive or lower tuition fees there.

In Scotland, Scottish students don't pay tuition fees, and this will continue to be the case. But, the Scottish Government has confirmed that students from other nations within the UK will have to pay full tuition fees in the 2020/21 academic year.

There's one chink of light here, though it's very small. If any students need to do extra terms that go beyond the expected completion of their course because tuition couldn't be provided or the tuition provided wasn't of a standard to earn their degree, then their university won't be able to charge tuition fees for this extra term.

What if I don't think my tuition has been worth the money?

If you feel that the teaching hasn't been up to scratch, you can complain in the normal ways. This will mean a complaint first to your university using its internal procedure.

If that doesn't help, you can escalate your complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which acts as an ombudsman for university students in England and Wales (also see its coronavirus help). 

If you're in Scotland, you can address your complaints to the Scottish Public Service Ombudsman and in NI, it's the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman

What if my (or my parents') income has dropped – does this affect how much student loan I can get?

When you apply to university, you get a standard loan that covers your tuition costs, but the loan you get to cover your general living costs – called the maintenance loan – varies, depending on household income and which country's finance system you're applying to...

- In England: The more the income, the less the loan received. This suggests parents should fill the gap, see our parental contribution calculator.
- In Wales:
Everyone gets the same amount, but the higher your income, the more of it is a repayable loan rather than non-repayable grant. 
- In Scotland & Northern Ireland: Its a mix of grant, loan and implied parental contribution. Higher income means less grant, more of the other two.

Typically, when you apply (whichever country you're in) you’ll be asked to provide information about your income in the previous tax year. Yet, if your income this tax year will be at least 15% less – perhaps due to coronavirus – you can give your income details for the current tax year instead.

This is known as a "Current Year Income assessment" and could result in a bigger maintenance payout. It’s not been newly introduced due to coronavirus, but due to the economic effects of the virus, it’s likely to be relevant to a larger group of people.

You'll need to make the finance application as normal (more info on how to do this), then you'll need to fill in the current year income assessment form separately as well.

Endsleigh extends contents policies to help students displaced by lockdown

Major student insurer Endsleigh has said it's waiving its usual "un-occupancy" exclusions for 60 days. Usually, you wouldn't be covered if you left contents in an empty room or property for this length of time as it gives too much opportunity for there to be theft or damage. But, it's waiving this for student who have left possessions in their student accommodation if they've returned to their parents' home during lockdown.

It's also added cover for possessions while you're travelling home of up to £500 per bag, and cover for items put into secure storage facilities during lockdown.

If you're not with Endsleigh, have a look on your insurer's website to see if it's offering extra cover during the coronavirus crisis.

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 £4.6 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.

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.