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Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits

Universal credit, employment & support allowance & other benefits that can help

Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live. It's an anxious and upsetting time, and while the primary concern is health, many of us have lost our jobs or found we can't continue in business. This guide looks at what benefits you can claim to help you through this difficult time – many can be claimed alongside other Government help available.

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 not covered below or in our other coronavirus guides, please email it to us (we can't respond to each question but we'll try to add answers in these guides).

In this guide

Income hit by coronavirus? You may be able to claim universal credit

If you're unemployed, off work due to sickness, or on a low income, you could be eligible for universal credit, a means-tested benefit to help you meet your basic living costs. You could work for an employer, be self-employed, have been recently furloughed or made redundant, or have had a reduction in wages, and still apply. 

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Government has made changes to universal credit, including upping the monthly standard rate – eg, from £317.82 to £409.89 for single people aged 25 or over. It's also removed the 'minimum income floor', to help self-employed people whose income has fallen, and increased the allowance for private renters who need help with housing costs.

You can check if you're likely to be accepted for universal credit using our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.

Who can claim universal credit?

You might be able to claim universal credit if:

  • You're out of work or on a low income.
  • You're aged 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you're 16 or 17).
  • You or your partner are under state pension age.
  • You have less than £16,000 in savings – if you have a partner, their savings count too (if you're self-employed, some savings may not count if they're for business purposes, eg, tax. Full what counts info is below).
  • You live in the UK.
  • You currently receive any of the benefits that universal credit is replacing – eg, working tax credits, child tax credit, income support, housing benefit – and your circumstances have changed.

WARNING: If you currently receive means-tested benefits, such as working tax credits, but are thinking of applying for universal credit, check before you do so. You need to be aware that your existing payments will stop as soon as you apply. Universal credit replaces these benefits and you will NOT be able to go back on to those benefits in future (you may of course remain entitled to some UC). For more, see our Will I be better off switching to universal credit? analysis.

How much can I get? 

Everyone gets a standard allowance, based on age and whether you're single or in a couple:

UNIVERSAL CREDIT STANDARD ALLOWANCE
Your circumstances Monthly standard allowance

Single and under 25

£342.72

Single and 25 or over

£409.89

In a couple and both under 25

£488.59 per couple

In a couple and either of you is 25 or over

£594.04 per couple

In addition, universal credit offers some people extra help. This is for:

  • Housing costs – for rent, but mortgage-holders can apply for a 'support for mortgage interest' loan
  • If you care for children
  • If you have a sickness or disability that prevents you from working
  • If you have other caring responsibilities

Don't forget it's quick and simple to see how much you could get with our 10-minute Benefits Calculator.

Quick questions

  • No. England and Wales follow the same guidelines, but Scotland has some extra flexibility and Northern Ireland has a different system. 

    Scotland

    Scotland has added flexibilities when it comes to receiving the payments, known as 'Scottish choices'. After you've received your first monthly universal credit payment, you can make two sets of choices. The first, between:

    • Being paid monthly, or

    • Being paid twice a month

    The second, between:

    • Having the housing element of universal credit paid into your bank account, or

    • Having the housing element paid directly to your landlord

    Northern Ireland

    Universal credit works differently in Northern Ireland. For example, it's normally paid twice a month, though you can choose to be paid monthly. Find out more on the NIdirect website.

  • One significant change to universal credit is the amount you can now claim towards housing costs. The amount it paid out for private tenants towards rent had been frozen since 2016, but from April the housing element of universal credit was unfrozen, meaning people who rent privately could be eligible for more money.

    The housing element of universal credit can be used to cover:

    • Rent – to a private landlord or for social housing
    • The interest on your mortgage – in the form of a loan called 'support for mortgage interest'. But there are limits
    • Some of the essential service charges you may pay

    I pay rent, how much can I get?

    The amount you get is set by your age, circumstances and the 'local housing allowance' rate in your area. To get an idea of what yours might be, see your area's rates here.

    Here are some examples: 


    The amount for two-bedroom accommodation in the London borough of Ealing is £339.49/week or about £1,360/month. 

    The amount for a two-bedroom accommodation in the Isle of Scilly is £143.84/week or about £575/month.

    I need help with my mortgage, how much can I get?

    If you are having difficulty meeting your mortgage payments, you should speak to your lender and see whether a 'mortgage holiday' is right for you. The payment holiday won't affect your credit rating and it could save you from going into arrears. If you have already taken a holiday or are looking for other options, you could apply for 'support for mortgage interest' (SMI).

    If you qualify for universal credit, after nine months you can apply for SMI on up to £200,000 of your mortgage, based on a standard rate of interest – currently 1.3%. The money is paid directly to your lender. This is a loan and not a benefit – this means it must be repaid when you die or sell your home. For more information, see the Gov.uk website.

  • Yes. If you're looking after a child under the age of 16, you can apply for an extra amount to help with the costs. If you have two children, you'll get extra for your second child. If you have three children you might get an extra payment, but it depends when they were born.

    How much can I get?

    For your first child:

    • £281.25 (born before 6 April 2017)
    • £235.83 (born on or after 6 April 2017)

    For your second child (and any other eligible children):

    • £235.83 per child

    If you have three or more children, you only get an extra amount for third or subsequent children if any of the following are true:

    • If your children were born before 6 April 2017, and 
    • You were already claiming for three or more children before 6 April 2017

    If you have a disabled or severely disabled child:

    • £128.25 or £400.29

  • If you can't work because of sickness or disability, you may be able to claim the 'limited capability for work and work-related activity' element of universal credit.

    How much can I get?

    If you have limited capability for work and work-related activity:

    • £341.92 a month

    If you have limited capability for work and you started your health-related universal credit claim before 3 April 2017:

    • £128.25 a month

    IMPORTANT: If you have paid enough national insurance contributions, you may be able to claim new-style employment and support allowance (ESA) of up to about £446/mth. You can claim new-style ESA alongside universal credit if you need the other elements of universal credit, such as for children or housing, but be aware this may reduce your overall universal credit entitlement. 

  • If you're a carer for someone in your household for at least 35 hours a week who is severely disabled, you may be able to get the 'carer's element' as part of your monthly universal credit payment.

    How much can I get?

    • £160.20 a month

    IMPORTANT: If you and someone else in your household care for the same person, you can't both get the carer's element. You'll have to decide which of you will claim it. If you're getting the separate carer's allowance benefit you can continue to get it, if you continue to be eligible.

  • No. But if you're on a low income you can apply for a council tax reduction. This is a long-standing discount 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
    For more information see our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide. 

     

How much can I earn and still qualify for universal credit?

This is where it gets complicated as there is NO FIXED AMOUNT YOU CAN EARN BEFORE YOU CAN GET UNIVERSAL CREDIT. It all depends on your personal situation. So unless two claimants have identical sets of circumstances they will receive different entitlements and be able to earn different amounts of money before their entitlement is eliminated. 

So if there is no set limit, how will I know if I'm eligible?

Even though there are no strict thresholds, there are some clear principles: 

  • As your income increases, your payment will reduce.
  • It will keep reducing until you're earning enough to no longer claim universal credit.
  • If your earnings decrease after this, you can claim universal credit again.
  • It's not just YOUR income that's taken into account, it's your household income. If your partner is a high earner (and it doesn't matter if you're married or not, as long as you live together) it's likely you won't be eligible to claim universal credit.

What counts as income?

  • Salary: Money you earn from paid work. For every £1 you earn in a month, your universal credit entitlement will decrease by 63p. However, some people will get a special work allowance.

  • Pension: If you receive money from a private pension pot and are below state pension age, for every £1 you receive it'll reduce your entitlement by £1.

  • Other benefits: Some benefits are taken into account when calculating your universal credit entitlement. Generally this is considered 'unearned income' and, like a pension, counts £1 for £1.

  • Savings: If you or your partner have combined savings of more than £6,000, you'll get less universal credit, and if your household has savings of £16,000 or more, you won't be eligible for universal credit at all.

How the date you apply for self-employment income support can affect your universal credit payments

It may be that as well as claiming universal credit, if you're self-employed and your business has been affected by Covid-19, you could be due a one-off payment via the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), if you meet its criteria.

However, if you have the ability to wait a few extra days, it could be worth delaying when you apply to the SEISS.

The aim of this is so that the SEISS payment arrives nearer the start of your universal credit 'assessment period' – a rolling four-week period that begins after your initial universal credit claim – rather than towards the end.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has given eligible SEISS applicants an allocated date and time slot to make their application, but we have confirmed that this is to help manage its systems, and not a deadline. 

The confirmed deadline is: 13 July. So there is quite a bit of wiggle room if you can afford to wait. 

Delaying your SEISS application has two main benefits: it gives you the ability to optimise how the two payments – universal credit and SEISS – work together, and can help you protect your May universal credit payment. 

Use our free calculator to see how this will work for your circumstances.  

Optimising both payments and protecting your May universal credit payment

SEISS gives one payment, made up of 80% of the average of three months of your reported self-employed profit, up to a maximum of £7,500.

This is considered 'income' when it comes to universal credit – and as we've seen, the higher your income, the smaller the amount of universal credit you receive. However, this SEISS 'income' can be offset (ie, reduced) by genuine business expenditure such as your tax bill, national insurance contributions or stock items.

So if you need to use your SEISS payment for business-related expenses, it helps if you can report these as much as possible in the same assessment period as it's paid in, to avoid having a higher 'income' amount that would reduce your universal credit entitlement. Want to see what you'll get? Use our free calculator

For more on the SEISS see our self-employed guide here

  • Sally Selfemployed's story: Sally makes a profit of £30,000 as a personal trainer in London. Due to the lockdown she has lost all her work. She applied for universal credit on 24 March, one day after lockdown. Her assessment period is 24 March to 23 April. 

    She was awarded £1,532 a month in universal credit – the standard element and the housing element. Sally has also applied to the SEISS and was invited to apply on 13 May. 

    • Sally's SEISS payment is £6,000 – calculated using three lots of 80% of her average monthly profit of £2,500. HMRC has said the payment will arrive "within six working days" of applying.
       
    • If Sally kept her allocated SEISS application slot, and receives her SEISS payment as scheduled by 21 May, she could have just three days to 'spend' her SEISS payment on her business needs, for them to offset her profit and protect her May universal credit award.

    • On a £30,000/year profit, Sally would need to set aside roughly £3,500 every year for tax and £2,500 in national insurance contributions – she could pay these, get them out of the way and keep her full universal credit entitlement. 

    • If she doesn't, her entire SEISS payment would count as 'profit' and her universal credit payment would be wiped out to £0 – essentially losing £1,532. So she'd need to use her SEISS payment for her housing and personal costs – which are not able to be offset. If she later decides to pay her tax and NI, she would need to use her universal credit or profits from her business. 

    • However, if Sally waits and applies for her SEISS payment 10 days later, on 23 May, her exact assessment period renewal date, she would receive her SEISS payment within six working days, at the latest 1 June. Since this is near the start of a fresh universal credit assessment period, she will get BOTH her full May universal credit payment of £1,532 AND have most of the month to use the funds for the expenses her business might need.

Self-employed and have savings put aside to pay tax? It needn't decrease the universal credit you get

Saving around a third of your profits to pay tax is normally sensible. But if you're now looking at claiming universal credit, you might think that any business savings in your personal account will affect your eligibility for this support. We've checked with the Department for Work and Pensions, which confirmed that while it'd expect business savings to be in a business account, nevertheless "if someone has money in their personal account to be used for business purposes, it won't be counted towards their capital".

However, it did warn that you may need to prove the cash is for business purposes. So if this applies to you, make it clear in your application that the savings are business savings, and put a note of it in your online universal credit 'journal', where you record any changes to your circumstances. It should then be discounted from the calculations.

Quick questions

  • Many people are allowed to earn some money without their universal credit being reduced. This is called a 'work allowance' and it's up to £503/mth.

    You can get a work allowance if you are responsible for a child or young person or living with a disability or health condition that affects your ability to work. 

    There are two work allowance rates. Which one you get depends on whether your universal credit payment includes help with housing costs:

    • If you do receive money to help with housing costs, your work allowance will be £287/mth.

    • If you don't receive money to help with housing costs, your work allowance will be £503/mth.

  • The following benefits will be taken into account:

    • Bereavement allowance
    • Carer's allowance
    • Employment and support allowance (new style)
    • Incapacity benefit
    • Industrial injuries disablement benefit
    • Jobseeker's allowance (new style)
    • Maternity allowance

    What doesn't count?

    • Child benefit
    • Disability living allowance
    • Income from boarders and lodgers
    • Maintenance payments
    • Personal independence payment
  • These will count as savings or capital...

    • Regular savings in your bank account
    • Fixed-term savings
    • ISAs – including LISAs, stocks & shares ISAs
    • If you've taken your private pension as a lump sum before state pension age
    • Redundancy pay 
    • Stocks or shares
    • Property you don't live in

    These won't count as savings or capital...

    • A pension pot that hasn't yet been drawn down
    • Pension income – this counts as income
    • Junior ISAs – money you have already given to your children

     

  • If you or your partner have savings or capital of between £6,000 and £16,000, the first £6,000 is ignored. The rest is treated as if it gives you a monthly income of £4.35 for each £250, or part of £250.

    Example:

    You and your partner each have £4,000 in separate savings accounts, so combined savings of £8,000. The first £6,000 is ignored. The remaining £2,000 is counted as giving you a monthly income of £34.80

    £2,000 ÷ £250 = 8

    8 × £4.35 = £34.80

    £34.80 will be taken off your monthly universal credit payment.

  • No. The Department for Work and Pensions only counts two people as being in a couple if they live in the same household and are:

    • Married

    • Civil partners

    • Living together as if married

      If you are in a couple and you meet the criteria above, you and your partner will need to make a joint claim for universal credit. This means the Government will assess what you need as a couple against what you have as a couple and award you accordingly.

  • As of 6 April, the 'minimum income floor' was temporarily scrapped. It's good news for self-employed people who have seen their earnings fall as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

    That's because, if your business has been running for 12 months or more and you claim universal credit, you would usually be treated as 'earning' a minimum amount, even if you actually earned less or even zero. (The minimum amount is calculated as a multiple of the minimum wage for your age and the number of hours you should work.)

    Previously, if your earnings dropped or remained persistently low, you would be treated as earning this minimum amount (the 'minimum income floor').

    Now, without the 'minimum income floor' in place, you can earn less than this, and the amount of universal credit you get will be boosted.

    A self-employed worker aged 25 working full-time would previously be assumed to be earning at least about £1,310/mth. If they actually earned less, their universal credit payment would not have previously increased. But now, if they earn less than £1,310/mth or even zero, their universal credit payment will reflect their actual earnings.

  • To apply for universal credit you need to show:

    • You have a right to claim benefits in the UK – this is called a 'right to reside' and depends on circumstances such as your work, family and personal situation
    • The UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or Isle of Man is your main home and you plan to stay – this is known as being 'habitually resident'
  • No. This loan would be considered a business asset and wouldn't count as income or personal capital, so wouldn't affect your universal credit payment.

How to apply

Right now phone lines are very busy. So if you can it's best to do it online. Visit the official Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) website here.

But be patient.

The DWP has been flat out processing applications, and while the number of claim applications might have fallen from the peak in April, it's still a busy period. If you can apply for universal credit online, do so. Once you've completed your application it will call you back. This frees up the lines for people who can't get online to claim.

If you need to phone, the universal credit helpline is 0800 328 5644.

How long will it take to get paid?

It takes around five weeks from the date you submit your claim to your first payment. 

I honestly dreaded this process as we'd never been through it before. We tried the phone... too long a wait. Tried online... thought we hadn't successfully completed the process. Then they rang us! All done and sorted in a week. Thank you universal credit workers.

- MoneySaver Jen

  • If you need help to pay your bills or cover other costs while you wait for your first universal credit payment, you can apply to get an advance.

    The most you can get as an advance is the amount of your first estimated payment. It is important here to remember that this is a loan and must be paid back. It will usually be collected by reducing your future universal credit payments. Also, the guidelines say you may not be allowed an advance if you have any final earnings or redundancy payments you can be living on while waiting for your universal credit award.

  • If you're told to ring for an appointment but can't get through, try to be patient. It's checking who's missing and WILL call you. And remember those call-handling staff are working flat out in difficult circumstances, so try not to vent at them – it's not their fault. 

  • Don't panic. We are hearing this is happening to many frustrated would-be claimants. It will take time; the DWP is overloaded. But it's told us that UC staff will see that your form is incomplete and call you. Expect a 'withheld number' or 0800 number.

    You can also call the helpline (0800 328 5644) – it is VERY busy but persevere, we are hearing of people getting through. You can also make a note in your online universal credit journal. 

  • British Sign Language (BSL) users can now access universal credit using the video relay service on the Gov.uk website. This allows BSL users to contact the Department for Work and Pensions via an interpreter, from a smart phone (excluding Blackberry or Windows phones), computer or tablet.

    The service is available 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and you don't need to book in advance. Simply click this link, turning on your microphone and front-facing camera and you'll be connected to a BSL interpreter via video. Explain what you'd like to discuss and the interpreter will telephone the service you require and relay the conversation between you and the other person.

    The video relay service is provided by SignVideo, which has full instructions on how to use it. You can access it via the Gov.uk link above or download the free SignVideo app on desktop or smartphone (iOS and Android).

Are there any other benefits that I can claim?

While universal credit is the main benefit available, there are other benefits that you may be eligible for too. He we go through them in detail – see if any of them apply to you. We also outline the support you may be able to access if you've lost a loved one.

Contributory employment and support allowance

Employed and self-employed workers can apply for this if directly affected by coronavirus, caring for a child who is ill with coronavirus or self-isolating according to Government advice.

As part of its response to the pandemic, the Government is changing the rules so you're eligible to claim employment and support allowance (ESA) from the first day of sickness/self-isolation rather than the eighth, as was the case previously. This change has been announced, but hasn't kicked in yet (the Department for Work and Pensions can't tell us currently when it will, but when it does the new rule will be backdated to Friday 13 March).

Given that payments are made fortnightly in arrears, claimants who meet the criteria should actually receive their first payment after about two weeks.

To be eligible, you must have paid enough national insurance contributions in the last two to three years (see full eligibility criteria – national insurance credits also count). What you get (and if you can get it) depends on several factors:

  • How much can I get? Up to £74/week depending on your age – if you're under 25, you'll get £59/week.

  • Can I still earn while I claim? Yes, you can earn up to £140 a week, but only if you are doing 'permitted work' of less than 16 hours a week because of a disability. 

  • What happens if I have savings? The amount won't be affected by you or your partner's savings or income, though if you get a private pension worth more than £85/week it'll be reduced.

  • What if I'm claiming other benefits? Contribution-based ESA can't be claimed alongside statutory sick pay, maternity pay or jobseeker's allowance. However, it can be claimed ALONGSIDE universal credit, but your universal credit entitlement may be reduced.

Working tax credit

If you're still on the old benefit system and receiving working tax credit, you should see an increase in your next payment. That's because, as part of measures to provide support during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has increased the basic element of working tax credit by £1,040/year (£20/week) to £3,040/year from Monday 6 April.

The only people still eligible to make a new claim for working tax credit are those who receive the 'severe disability premium', or those who have stopped receiving it in the past month but remain eligible for it.

How much can I earn and still qualify?

Payments are means-tested, so the more you earn, the less you receive. While there's no set limit for income, working tax credit is mainly for families earning roughly under £46,000.

But for most people, working tax credit has been replaced by universal credit.

NEW. I can't work my normal hours – what happens to my tax credits?

To qualify for working tax credit, normally you must work a certain number of hours: at least 30 hours if you're aged 25-59, or 16 hours if you're 60+, disabled or single with one or more children. 

But the Government has confirmed that if you can't work your normal hours because of coronavirus, you will still receive your usual tax credit payments.

This means if you're working reduced hours due to coronavirus or you've been furloughed, your payments will not be affected as long as you are still employed or self-employed.

You don't need to contact HMRC about this change. You will be treated as working your normal hours until the Job Retention Scheme and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme close, even if you are not using either scheme.

WARNING: If you currently receive working tax credit but are thinking of applying for universal credit, check before you do so. You need to be aware that your existing payments will stop. Universal credit is a replacement for working tax credit and you will NOT be able to switch back in future (you may of course remain entitled to some universal credit). See 'Will I be better off switching to universal credit?' below for more...

Will I be better off switching to universal credit?

Most people will receive a similar amount on universal credit – within £100 a year of what they would get under the old 'legacy' system. But a few will be £1,000s a year better or worse off.

Who is likely to be better off?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that those in work, who live in expensive cities such as London and who pay rent to private landlords are most likely to gain. Around one in three such claimants, it estimates, will see an increase in entitlement of at least £1,000 a year.

Who could be worse off?

Of the claimants who could stand to lose £1,000 a year or more, most are affected by universal credit's harsher treatment of those with savings. If you have savings or capital of more than £6,000 up to £16,000, your universal credit award will reduce – anything over £16,000 and you will not get any universal credit. Meanwhile, savings or capital AREN'T taken into account if you receive working tax credit. 

So if you currently get any of the older benefits listed below, and are thinking of making a new universal credit claim, try to get advice from a benefits specialist if you can. Also use our free Benefits Calculator to work out what you're entitled to – that way you can see if you're going to be better or worse off.

You don't want to miss out on the help you need now, by failing to claim, but you do need to be aware of possible consequences – and once you make the switch you can't reverse the decision:

  • Working tax credit
  • Child tax credit
  • Income support
  • Income-related employment and support allowance (NOT new style)
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Housing benefit

Quick question

  • It's not just the amount of support you receive that varies. Some of the overall rules may be different, including how long it takes to receive the benefit after starting a claim and the frequency of your payments. Many older benefits are weekly or fortnightly, as well as monthly, while universal credit is one monthly payment. Also the commitments you need to agree to in order to remain eligible are different.

    Plus, there is almost always no going back to your previous benefits once you've made a claim for universal credit.

    Here are a couple of important points to consider:

    • Moving from housing benefit to universal credit? You will continue to get housing benefit for two weeks after your new universal credit claim starts. This is to reduce the risk of rent arrears.

    • Lost your job but got your final pay after you applied for universal credit? Don't be shocked if you get a decision saying your first universal credit award is £0. It just means your final month's pay has taken you out of eligibility. While you won't get any money for the first month, as long as you update your earnings each month in your journal, your universal credit will be adjusted to reflect your new earnings.

Jobseeker's allowance

If you're out of work, you might be entitled to claim jobseeker's allowance (JSA). It's a flat-rate state benefit you can claim if you're unemployed (not on furlough).

It is NOT means-tested. This means it makes no allowances for extra costs such as children or rent and your savings and partner's savings or income don't count either. This can make it a better option than universal credit for some people, eg, if you have too much in savings to be eligible for universal credit.

There are three types of JSA:

  • 'New-style' JSA. This is the main type of JSA generally available to new claimants – and this is the one we refer to here.
  • 'Income-based' JSA. This has largely been replaced by universal credit for new claims.
  • 'Old-style' contributory JSA. It's only available to a small number of people who have been recently receiving a means-tested benefit and are severely disabled.

How much can I get?

How much you get depends on your age:

  • £58.90 a week if you're under 25
  • £74.35 a week if you're over 25

Note: You are not paid for the first seven days of your claim and will be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks, after which your payments will stop.

Am I eligible? 

If you were recently working as an employee (ie, not self-employed) and lost your job due to coronavirus, you will likely be eligible for 'new-style' JSA. 

Eligibility is based on whether you've paid enough class 1 national insurance contributions in the last two to three years as an employee. Self-employment contributions don't count.

Quick question

  • To be eligible for JSA you need to show that you've recently been in regular, paid work – to find this out, the Government looks at your national insurance (NI) record.  

    For all new claims, it looks at your NI contributions for the two previous completed tax years. So for new claims made this year (2020), it will look at your NI record as an employee in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 tax years. 

    From this, you need to meet two sets of criteria: 

    1. You must have paid NI in at least 26 separate weeks in one of the tax years above, and earned over £113 a week in 2017/18 or £116 a week in 2018/19 in the weeks you worked. The amounts are different because they change every year.

    2. You must also have paid NI on total earnings above £5,650 in 2017/18 and £5,800 in 2018/19. 

    Examples:

    Jerry Jobseeker worked 40 weeks in only one of those years, earning £120 a week, so he would meet the first test but fail the second test.

    Jenny Jobshunter only worked 12 weeks in one year and earned £6,000, so she'd meet the second test but not the first one.

What else have I got to do to get JSA? 

Usually you have to show that you're actively looking for work. But new guidance has been issued as a result of coronavirus. This means that:

  • At the moment you DON'T have to search for work.
  • At the moment you DON'T have to be available for work.

It no longer matters what is set out in your claimant commitment contract, which you sign when you start a claim at the Jobcentre. This will continue until at least 29 June 2020.

Quick questions

  • Yes, but it's deducted at a rate of £1 for £1 from your overall universal credit entitlement. Essentially the 'standard allowance' part of universal credit and JSA are designed to give you the same help, so this part of universal credit is 'either/or'.

    So if you're not entitled to any extra elements of universal credit such as housing or childcare, you wouldn't get universal credit and JSA. But if you're also entitled to housing, disability or childcare help, you can get those parts alongside your JSA amount. 

    Need to know: Right now JSA has not had the same £20 a week increase as the universal credit standard allowance. This means that you may now also be entitled to the universal credit standard allowance as a 'top-up' to JSA. This is especially so if you have a dependent partner, children or housing costs, but also just as a single childless person. 

    Can I still earn while I claim?

    Only very small amounts, and only for work of less than 16 hours a week.

    What happens if I have savings?

    Savings/capital DO NOT affect your entitlement. But any pensions paid to you over £50 a week (unless paid to you as a survivor) will reduce your JSA.  

  • For claimants who don't meet the criteria for new-style JSA there is income-based JSA. 

    This has now been replaced by universal credit for new claims except as a top-up in a very small number of old-style contributory JSA claims. 

    If you've been on income-based JSA for some time (pre-dating universal credit) you could voluntarily switch to universal credit to take advantage of the higher rate of that benefit, and the fact you can earn slightly more while receiving universal credit. However, you need to bear in mind that any help you currently also get with children and rent through other benefits would be incorporated into the universal credit too.

Child benefit

If you've been made redundant, or put on furlough, and your salary has subsequently dropped, you may now be entitled to claim child benefit – a monthly payment for anyone with parental responsibilities for children under the age of 16.

If you've already registered for (and opted out of) the benefit previously, claiming only involves a quick phone call – make sure you have your national insurance number to hand. For those new to claiming, it's just one form to fill in.

How does child benefit work?

If you (or your partner) earn below £50,000, you get 100% of the benefit a week: £20.70 for your first child and £13.70 for each additional child. It's paid every four weeks and depending on how many children you have, it can really add up.

  • The benefit is calculated on 'adjusted' net income for a full tax year. So if you had four months of no pay, for example, on a £70,000 salary, you'll have an average income below £50,000 over the tax year. This means you'd be eligible for child benefit for that WHOLE tax year. If you've been furloughed you may have to do some maths to consider the overall average for the year to determine if you are below the threshold.

  • If you earn above £50,000 a year, the amount you receive is tapered, up to £60,000. You will be required to pay back (via a self-assessment tax return) 1% of your family's child benefit for every extra £100 you earn over £50,000.

  • Once you hit £60,000, you'll then need to pay back 100% of your entitlement via a tax return, meaning essentially you won't get any benefit.

  • You may have filled in a 'CH2' child benefit form and opted out previously when your salary was higher, to protect your state pension (for more on this, see our MSE News story). In this case, you'll simply need to call the child benefit helpline on 0300 200 3100 and ask now to opt in.

  • If you haven't previously applied for the benefit or you've just had a baby and want to claim, you can do so as soon as you've registered the birth of your child, or they come to live with you if you've adopted them. If you've not been able to register the birth due to coronavirus, you can still make a claim – see 'Had a baby recently?' below.

  • To make a claim, fill in the CH2 claim form and send it to the child benefit office. The address is on the form. If your child is adopted, send their original adoption certificate with the form. You can order a new adoption certificate if you've lost the original.

  • It can take up to 12 weeks to process a new claim, but the claim can be backdated for up to three months. So if you call to claim the benefit now, but were made redundant a month ago, you can claim from the date you were made redundant.

For full information on how to claim, see our Child Benefit guide.

WARNING: If and when you go back to work and your salary is back up to 100%, if this pushes you over the £60,000 threshold, make sure you contact the child benefit helpline to say you want to opt out again to avoid having to pay any money back later (or if it's between £50,000 and £60,000, keep a tab on how much you will have to pay back).

Had a baby recently?

Normally you have to go in person to register your baby's birth and provide a birth certificate with your child benefit claim. But now you just need to tell HM Revenue & Customs when applying that you haven't been able to register your baby's birth due to coronavirus. For a full rundown of what to do, see our help on claiming child benefit for newborns.

Grieving the loss of a loved one? Here's the state help you could get

The death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most stressful and emotional times you can experience. And for some of us, it can also bring extra financial worry. But there is help available with funeral costs and financial support for up to 18 months after your bereavement.

Below you'll find the main areas of support available, who's eligible and what you could get. For more detailed information, go to our What to do when someone dies guide. 

1. Help with funeral costs

If you're on certain benefits, such as universal credit, child tax credits or pension credit, you could receive what's called the funeral expenses payment. There are two elements to this support.

The first element is to help shoulder some of the more expensive, essential aspects of a funeral, such as:

  • Cremation fees, including the fee for the doctor's certificate
  • Travel arrangements to the funeral
  • The cost of moving the body within the UK (more than 50 miles)
  • Burial fees for a particular plot
  • Death certificates or other documents

The second element is for help with other smaller costs such as funeral directors' fees, the coffin or flowers etc. To claim, you can keep your receipts and apply for reimbursement of up to £1,000 – an amount increased from £700 on 8 April 2020. So if your loved one died before this date, the previous lower rate applies. 

How much help can I get for essential costs?

There is no limit to the amount of money you can get for the first element covering essential costs, rather like universal credit. But the amount you get depends on what the costs are, your circumstances and those of the deceased. 

It's important to note that this part of the payment is not strictly a grant – if the deceased person had assets, such as savings or property, the state will claw back the payment from that. For example, if they owned a flat, the state will claim money back from the sale of that. However, if there aren't any assets, you will not be asked to repay it from your own money.

How and when to apply

You must apply within six months of the funeral, even if you're waiting for a decision on whether you'll receive a benefit that would qualify you for the funeral expenses payment. You can make a claim before the funeral if you've got an invoice or signed contract from the funeral director.

You'll need to fill in a claim form, which you can download from the Gov.uk website.

If approved, the funeral expenses payment is paid into your bank, building society or credit union account if you've already paid for the funeral.

The money will be paid directly to the organiser of the funeral (for example, the funeral director) if you haven't paid yet.

2. Bereavement support

If your husband, wife or civil partner died on or after 6 April 2017, you could be entitled to a benefit known as the bereavement support payment. The payment is normally a lump sum, followed by 18 monthly payments. You don't have to be claiming benefits to receive it.

Below you'll find the key points about the payment, who's eligible and what you could get. For more detailed information, visit our What to do when someone dies guide.

Who is eligible?

You'll be eligible for this benefit if you were:

  • Under state pension age when your partner died
  • Over state pension age and your partner wasn't entitled to a state pension based on their own national insurance contributions
  • Living in the UK, or a country that pays bereavement benefits

 Or if your husband, wife or civil partner:

  • Paid at least 25 weeks of national insurance
  • Died because of an accident at work or disease caused by work

How much help can I get? 

The amount you're entitled to depends on whether you're receiving child benefit and when you put the claim in:

  • Receiving child benefit or are entitled to it? The first payment is £3,500, followed by 18 monthly payments of £350. This includes if you're pregnant when your partner died.

  • DON'T receive child benefit? The first payment is £1,500, followed by 18 monthly payments of £100.

How to apply 

You must claim within three months of your partner's death to receive the full amount. You can claim up to 21 months after, but the amount will be less.

The bereavement support payment won't affect your other benefits for a year after your first payment. If after a year you're still receiving the payment, this could affect the other benefits you're eligible for.

You can apply by filling in a form or ringing the bereavement service helpline on 0800 731 0469. See Gov.uk for more on how to claim.

What help can I get if I'm not a UK national and don't have a 'right to reside'? 

Even if you don't have permission to live permanently in the UK, you might still be able to access help and support.

For example, if you need medical treatment in the UK, you won't have to pay for diagnosis or treatment of Covid-19. This includes if you're tested and the result is negative. Your immigration status won't be checked if you seek a test or treatment for coronavirus.

For more information about what help you could get, see the Gov.uk website.

NHS and social care staff to get free car parking

NHS and social care staff working in hospitals will get free onsite car parking for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

NHS trusts are responsible for setting hospitals' car parking charges, but the Government says it's committed to providing the financial backing so they can abolish parking charges for their staff.

The Government also says that some hospitals may require additional car parking capacity and that under new measures, some key workers will be able to use council parking bays without time restrictions or charges.

The changes will apply to all on-street parking and open, council-run car parks, including pay and display, and will see charges suspended for health workers, social care workers and NHS volunteers. The way that people provide evidence for their jobs will be decided by individual councils.

The National Car Parks group has also confirmed that it will provide free parking for NHS staff at all 150 of its car parks in England.

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.