MSE News

Coronavirus Self-Employed & Small Limited Company Help

Your rights if you're self employed incl help for limited company directors

Coronavirus Self-Employed & Small Limited Company Help

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 who are self-employed have found they're struggling to keep afloat or can't continue in business. This guide looks at your rights as a self-employed person and what support's out there – including help for limited company directors.

There is less than one month until the second (and final) Self-employed Income Support Scheme closes. Latest statistics show that more than 1.4m eligible people have yet to apply. See below for all the info about how to apply. 

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 coronavirus guides, please email it to us (we can't respond with personal advice but we'll try to add answers in these guides).

In this guide

Less than 4 weeks to go. Apply for the second Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) – the Government grant to self-employed individuals whose businesses have been adversely affected by coronavirus – is made up of two grants.

The first grant closed on 13 July 2020, but the second and final grant opened for applications on 17 August 2020. So far more than two million people have applied for this second grant, but HMRC estimates that a further 1.4 million people are eligible for it.

Here's what you need to know about the second grant:

  • The last date to apply is 19 October 2020, meaning you've now got less than four weeks to do so.

  • It's worth up to 70% of your average monthly trading profits over the tax years ending in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (more on that below). It's paid in a single instalment of up to £6,570 (£2,190/mth), and it's designed to cover three months worth of profits. As it's a grant, you don't need to pay it back.

  • Grants are based on your profits over three tax years. This is based on an average of the tax returns for 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19. If you did not trade in 2016/17, it's based on the average of 2017/18 and 2018/19. If you did not trade in 2017/18, the amount is based on 2018/19 only – even if you traded in 2016/17.

  • You don't need to have claimed the first grant to receive the second grant. And if you've claimed the first, you can claim the second as long as you're still eligible.

  • You need to have been adversely affected by coronavirus on or after 14 July 2020 to claim it. Unsure what "adversely affected" means? We've detailed examples and help. The 14 July 2020 date is "bizarre", adding confusion to many people who were affected throughout June. We offer some helpful guidance on what this rule means below.

  • You must have filed a tax return for 2018/19. This means you must have been self-employed prior to 6 April 2019. The last possible moment to file a 2018/19 tax return was 23 April 2020 (the deadline had been extended from 31 January 2020). If you only had a few months' self-employment on your 2018/19 return, this is counted as your total profit for the year – the Government won't pro-rata it based on your monthly profits.

  • You must earn more than 50% of your total income from self-employment. To check this, HMRC will first look at your your 2018/19 tax return to see if it was the case then. If you're not eligible based on 2018/19 alone, it will then look at the tax years 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 to see if the average of your trading profits across the three years were more than 50% of your total income.

    Income from property, dividends, savings, pensions and taxable benefits all count as "non-trading income" and, to qualify for the SEISS, the total of these combined must NOT exceed 50% of your total income. Confused about what counts as "taxable income"? Here's our full list.

  • Your average trading profit must be less than £50,000/year. This is essentially a 'cliff-edge' requirement – so those whose average annual trading profit is more than £50,000 (to be specific, £50,000.01 and above) won't be able to get any support from this scheme.

    Again, HMRC says it will first check your 2018/19 tax return – if you met the requirements that year, you'll be eligible. However, if you earned more than £50,000 (or earned less than half of your income from self-employment) in 2018/19, it'll check your 2016/17 and 2017/18 tax returns if you filed them for those years. If on average over the three years you earned less than £50,000 and made more than half your income from self-employment, you'll be eligible. See more info below if you made a loss.

  • You CAN keep working if you claim the grant. You do not need to prove coronavirus impact, though you need to declare your business has been impacted on or after 14 July 2020. HMRC will check for fraudulent claims.

  • You can also apply for and get universal credit (SEISS doesn't make you ineligible). But once you start receiving self-employed income support too then this will be classed as income, meaning the amount of universal credit you receive will decrease. But you will NOT have to pay back previous months of universal credit because of your SEISS payment. If you can wait, in some cases it could be worth delaying your SEISS application to maximise your universal credit award. We have all the details in our Coronavirus Universal Credit & Benefits guide.

How to apply for the second SEISS grant

You need to apply via the official Government claims portal. Not sure you're eligible? The application will tell you if not.

To apply, or check, you need the following information:

  • Self-assessment unique taxpayer reference (UTR) – if you do not have this, find out how to get your lost UTR
  • National insurance (NI) number – if you do not have this, find out how to get your lost NI number
  • Government Gateway user ID and password – if you do not have a user ID, you can create one when you make your claim
  • UK bank details (only provide bank account details where a Bacs payment can be accepted) including the: bank account number, sort code, name on the account, address linked to your bank account. IMPORTANT: You must make the claim yourself. Your tax agent or financial adviser must not claim on your behalf as this will trigger a fraud alert.

See MSE founder Martin Lewis explain how the scheme works (he filmed this when the first grant was launched):

Embedded YouTube Video

Second SEISS grant's 'bizarre' rule

The eligibility criteria are the same for the second grant as for the first. But you need to confirm your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus on or after 14 July 2020 to claim the second grant. Unsure what "adversely affected" means? We've detailed examples and help.

This rule is somewhat bizarre. The Government's own press release from 26 March 2020 stated: "The income support scheme... will cover the three months to May," ie, March, April and May. Logic (and basic counting) therefore suggests the second three-month grant covers June, July and August.

So it's very strange to read the new rule that says you have to declare your business was impacted after mid July, and we think it's unfair on businesses that were heavily impacted in June but recovered by mid July.

Having spoken to HMRC, apparently the grants don't relate to a specific three-month time period, they are just grants though based on three months of trading profits.

But the rules ARE simple. The first grant is for those whose 'business was impacted by Covid-19 before 13 July', and the second is for those 'impacted by Covid-19 on or after 14 July'. If impacted before and after the dates, you are due both.

Quick questions

  • Yes. If the leave was taken in 2018/19 and it meant you weren't previously eligible for SEISS, you now can apply. The special HMRC application link is now live and you can find it here

    If you took parental leave away from your business and didn't need to submit a self-assessment tax return because your earnings fell below £1,000 – previously you would not have passed the eligibility criteria. However, special dispensation has been announced for new parents who took their leave in 2018/19.

    You might have also earned more than £1,000 from your business, but still failed to be eligible if you had income from other sources (such as a part-time job) which meant your self-employed income was below 50% of your total income.

    This means parents – including mothers, fathers and those who have adopted – who took time out of trading to care for their children within the first 12 months of birth (or adoption placement) will now be able to use their 2017/18, or both their 2016/17 and 2017/18, self-assessment returns as the basis for eligibility.

    IMPORTANT: You can only disregard your 2018/19 trading year if it meant you were ineligible altogether. Unfortunately, if you were eligible, you must still count your 2018/19 tax year when calculating your grant amount, which is based on average trading profits.

  • Yes, but some benefits could have an impact on your eligibility.

    To qualify for SEISS, your non-trading income has to be less than the trading profits, and some benefits count as "non-trading income".

    Generally speaking, a "taxable benefit" will count as non-trading income, while a "non-taxable benefit" won't count.

    Key benefits that are taxable – and count as income – are:

    • Employment and support allowance
    • Carer's allowance
    • Bereavement allowance

    Key benefits that are non-taxable – and don't count – are:

    • Universal credit
    • Child tax credit

    If you're unsure whether a benefit you get is taxable or non-taxable, click the drop down menus below for the full list.

    • These benefits are ignored when you apply for SEISS
      • Attendance allowance
      • Lump sum bereavement payments
      • Bereavement support payment
      • Best start grant
      • Child benefit
      • Child dependency additions paid with carer's allowance, incapacity benefit, state retirement pension and widowed parent's allowance
      • Child tax credit
      • Christmas bonus for pensioners
      • Cold weather payments
      • Council tax reduction
      • Disability living allowance
      • Employment and support allowance (income-related)
      • Funeral support payment
      • Guardian's allowance
      • Health costs, including eye tests, prescriptions and travel under the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme
      • Housing benefit
      • Income support, unless you are on strike when you claim
      • Industrial injuries benefits, including constant attendance allowance, disablement benefit, exceptionally severe disablement allowance and reduced earnings allowance
      • Maternity allowance
      • One-parent benefit, only available if your claim was made before April 1997
      • Pension credit
      • Personal independence payment
      • Return to work credit
      • Severe disablement allowance
      • Social fund payments, including budgeting loans, funeral expenses payments and sure start maternity grants
      • Universal credit
      • War disablement pension, including allowances
      • War widow's/widower's pension
      • Winter fuel payments
      • Young carer grant
    • These benefits are considered "non-trading income" when you apply for SEISS
      • Bereavement allowance
      • Carer's allowance
      • Employment and support allowance – contributory and youth
      • Incapacity benefit – except for the first 28 weeks (higher rate) and those who were receiving the former invalidity benefit at 12 April 1995 for the same incapacity (long-term)
      • Income support paid to people who are on strike
      • Industrial death benefit pensions
      • Jobseeker's allowance – both contribution-based and income-based up to a taxable maximum
      • State pension
      • Widowed mother's allowance
      • Widowed parent's allowance
      • Widow's pension

        Additions for dependent children paid with any of the above benefits are not taxable. An addition for a spouse or civil partner is taxable.
  • No, unfortunately not. If you weren't able to file a tax return for self-employed earnings in 2018/19, you won't be able to apply. This is to try to prevent fraud – people saying that they have a self-employed business to get the grant.

  • The grant you'll get is based on your average monthly profits – so if you made a loss, unfortunately you won't be able to get anything. However, do check what other support is available, including whether you can apply for a business interruption loan or universal credit.

  • The Government says individuals must "do the right thing" and only make a claim through the scheme if you've genuinely been adversely affected by coronavirus and need financial support.

    However, if you are struggling now and claim the grant, but later in the year your profits increase, the Government has confirmed the grant WON'T be "clawed back" by HMRC.

    It's worth noting that the grants are taxable – so claiming the grant will mean you have a higher taxable income when you come to do your 2020/21 tax return.

  • Yes. The Scottish Government announced on Wednesday 15 April a further £220 million in grants to help businesses, including the recently self-employed.

    About £100 million of that support is designed for self-employed people and viable micro and SME businesses in distress due to coronavirus.

    There's no additional support in Wales or Northern Ireland on top of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

  • The latest Government advice says: "You must keep evidence to confirm your business was adversely affected at the time you made your claim". So while you may not need to prove your claim, you should keep as much evidence as you can. 

    HMRC says it only expects people to use the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme if they've indeed been negatively impacted, and is introducing checks to prevent fraud.

  • To qualify for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, more than 50% of your total taxable income must come from self-employment.

    When looking at what your total income actually is, HMRC takes into account the following: 

    • Income from earnings
    • Trading profits
    • Property income
    • Dividends
    • Savings income
    • Pension income
    • Miscellaneous income
  • Possibly. Being a landlord doesn't preclude you from being a part of the scheme – if you can meet the other criteria. Income from property does count towards your 'total income', but it doesn't count towards trading profits and the scheme looks at trading profits.

    Private landlords are also now eligible for a three-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties.

  • In short, the answer is yes.

    We get many questions like this, and it's likely a reason why more than 800,000 eligible people haven't claimed the SEISS grant. So to reiterate, if you're eligible and can declare "my business has been affected by coronavirus" (whether due to your/staff illness, less access to premises, reduced demand or something else) then you CAN claim, even if you're still working.

    And the grant is a flat rate, you either get it or you don't.

    Still unsure? We have more detailed guidance on what counts as being adversely affected.

  • Yes, provided you fulfil the other eligibility criteria. The Government has said that any reservists who currently cannot access the scheme as a direct result of their service in 2018/19 will be able to make a claim for both grants. 

    All of the following must apply:

    • You carried out specified reservist activities for at least 90 days in the period for which your trading profits or total income for the 2018/19 tax year are determined.
    • These reservist activities affected your trading profits or total income for that year.
    • You were self-employed in the 2017/18 tax year and have submitted your self-assessment tax return for that year.

    Specified reservist activities are:

    • Full-time service commitment
    • Additional duties commitment
    • Call-out

    The Government website says that you will be contacted with more information if it thinks you may be eligible.

  • The first Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grant opened for applications on 13 May 2020 and closed 13 July 2020. It was worth up to 80% of profits, capped at £2,500 per month – £7,500 in total.

  • If you think you were underpaid

    If you believe you have not received enough money, there is now an official review process. But first HMRC says you should double-check your calculations using the information on its website, then contact your tax agent adviser if you have one. Then if you still think it's incorrect, you can ask for a review of your claim. HMRC has confirmed there is no specific deadline for people to do this, but it encourages people to do so as soon as possible.

    To do this, you will need to login into your Government Gateway account and have the following information:

    • Your grant claim reference
    • Your national insurance number
    • The unique taxpayer reference you used on your claim
    • Details about why you think the grant amount is too low

    If you think you were overpaid

    If you think you got the grant but were not eligible, or received more than HMRC said you were entitled to, you MUST tell HMRC. You can do this by logging into your Government Gateway account.

    HMRC is not trying to catch people out who genuinely needed to claim – it has assured us that the rule applies in the following cases:

    • You were not adversely affected – we have some helpful examples of what counts in our Adversely Affected guide.
    • You had ceased trading or did not intend to continue trading at the time of the claim.
    • You mistakenly gave HMRC incorrect information that affected its SEISS calculation or eligibility.
    • You knowingly provided false or wrong information to inflate a SEISS claim or make yourself eligible.

    The deadlines depend on the date you received your grant. If you received the grant:

    • Before 22 July 2020, you must tell HMRC on or before 20 October 2020.
    • On or after 22 July 2020, you must tell HMRC within 90 days of receiving the grant.

    You can also tell HMRC if you want to voluntarily pay back some or all of the grant you received. You can do this at any time.

New. Grants for businesses in England forced to close due to local lockdowns

Businesses in England that are required to shut because of local interventions – such as lockdowns or "targeted restrictions" – will now be able to claim up to £1,500 per property every three weeks. This does not affect eligibility for the other forms of Government support, such as the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Businesses still closed at a national level, such as nightclubs, will not be eligible.

How much can I get? 

  • Businesses on premises that pay annual rent or mortgage payments of exactly £51,000 or more can claim £1,500 for every three-week period they are ordered to close.
  • Businesses on premises that pay annual rent or mortgage payments less than £51,000 can claim £1,000 for every three-week period they are ordered to close.
  • Each payment will be made for a three-week lockdown period. Each new three-week lockdown period triggers an additional payment.

How do I get the payment?

  • The grants will be administered by local authorities.
  • As soon as it is confirmed your business will need to be closed for at least three weeks, you need to contact your local authority.
  • It is then up to individual local authorities to make payments as quickly as possible.
  • Not sure how to contact your local authority? Here's the local council website checker.

Need to know

  • You can't claim for single weeks, ie, £500 for one week. It is either for a full three-week period or none. 
  • The grants are "per property". This means if you have a business with more than one premise, such as a restaurant with two branches that are both forced to close, you will receive two grants. 
  • Further eligibility criteria may be determined by local authorities.
  • As with other Covid-19 business grants, the grants will be treated as taxable income.

In Wales or Scotland?

Business support is fully devolved, so it is up to the devolved nations to decide how to support businesses in their areas. There is yet to be additional specific local lockdown business support measures for Scotland or Wales, but as soon as there are any announcements, we will update this guide.

In Northern Ireland?

For Northern Ireland, the localised restrictions do not constitute a lockdown, and presently businesses are not required to close under the current measures. There is a range of other business support available – see the full list here.

What if I'm not eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme?

Not all self-employed people can access this help – for example, if you earn more than £50,000 a year, or if less than half of your income is from self-employment. If you don't meet the eligibility requirements, unfortunately you won't be able to claim, but there are other things you can try:

  • The Government small business bounce back loans can be used to SUPPORT YOUR INCOME, including for those with no other support (eg, newly self-employed, limited company directors). Since Monday 4 May, the new 100% state-backed bounce back loans, for up to £50,000, have been available. They're interest-free and payment-free in the first year – so pay it off then and it's no cost, and at a very low 2.5% annual interest after that.

  • Normally we don't cover business finance, but Martin wanted to here, as he'd had an inkling you could effectively turn this into a state support scheme for those who've missed out on the official ones, ie, newly self-employed, self-employed with £50,000+ profits, limited company directors (to an extent) and more.

    We've now had it officially CONFIRMED there's nothing in the loan rules stopping you using these loans to support your income (though there can be tax/regulation issues depending on your firm's structure). Of course it's far from ideal – these are loans, not grants – but it's an option. So we've rapidly put together our new Bounce Back Loans guide, outlining how the loans work.
  • Alternatively, you can apply for a business interruption loan. The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is open to self-employed people and offers access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to six years. The Government could also give you a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest and fees on the loan. 

    The scheme is now open for applications, and is offered by all major banks. Read more on the Government's Business Support website. The two loan schemes will run alongside each other.

You can't get statutory sick pay if you're self-employed. But if you have to take time off work because you're sick or self-isolating – or you've lost all your income due to coronavirus – check if you can claim benefits towards housing and other costs.

  • If you're self-employed and are concerned about paying your tax due to coronavirus, you can apply for a 'Time to Pay' arrangement.

    This gives you a time-limited deferral period on what you owe HMRC and a pre-agreed time period to pay what you owe – it's aimed at businesses and self-employed people who are in 'financial distress' and owe outstanding tax.

    HMRC has also promised to waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to coronavirus.

    For more info, call HMRC's helpline on 0800 0159 559.

You may qualify for benefits if you're sick or self-isolating

The various contact tracing schemes in England (Test and Trace), Scotland (Test and Protect), Wales (Test, Trace and Protect) and Northern Ireland (Test and Trace) are all now up and running. If you've been in close contact with someone who tests positive, you may be told to self-isolate for 14 days. If so, and you can't operate your business from home and it's disrupted, you can apply for universal credit, though what (if anything) you get depends on your costs, savings and income.

If you're sick, you can apply for new-style employment support allowance (ESA) and claim from the first day of sickness, but note it's only in cases where households are ill or self-isolating. You won't be able to make a claim because your child's school is closed and you have to take time off to care for them. You can only get help with childcare costs if you're using a registered childcare provider, rather than caring for your kids yourself.

However, it's still worth checking that you're claiming all the other benefits and support you're entitled to, or checking if you can take a mortgage payment holiday or delay energy bills.

IR35 tax reforms have been delayed a year

Controversial reforms which will lead to tax bills going up for many self-employed people have been delayed by a year as a result of coronavirus. Changes to IR35 'off payroll working' rules – anti-tax avoidance rules – will now come in during April 2021 instead.

The changes will mean every medium and large private sector business in the UK will become responsible for setting the tax status of any contracted worker. Currently the rules only apply to the public sector.

In simple terms, this means self-employed people working for a company will pay more tax. The fear is that businesses will find the changes too complicated and use fewer self-employed people as a result. 

However, while the delay comes as a respite for some, it's been made clear the reforms will definitely still go ahead in April 2021.

A message from Martin to those excluded from support...

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "When the Chancellor's financial support schemes first came out, they were rightly lauded for protecting millions of people's jobs and incomes in this unprecedented health and economic catastrophe. At the time, I said in one interview I'd give it an A-grade, but what'd really count is how they'd help those who'd fallen through the cracks.

"Yet whether its new starter furlough or self-employed support, freelance PAYE, limited company directors, dental nurses, shielders whose firms won't furlough and many more – those cracks are now fissures, with up to three million people desperate, without help or support. And so that grade has degraded.

"All my attempts to be allocated a journalistic question at the Downing Street press conferences about this have been turned down, so thank you to Andrew Marr who raised it, in my name, with the Chancellor on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

"Listening to it will not make many hopeful. And indeed if you're in this situation while you can hope for the best, its best to plan for the worst. There's a new group, Excluded UK, set up as a community interest company by three people to try and give a voice to those missing out. It's early days, but at least it means there's a voice being heard, aiming to raise awareness."

Andrew Marr discusses the excluded with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Sunday 14 June. Content shared at the courtesy of The Andrew Marr Show / BBC.

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Gig worker, zero hours, freelance or agency? Check if you're eligible for furlough

If you work in the 'gig' economy – for example, you freelance, work through an agency or are on a 'zero-hours' contract – it's important to check whether you're eligible to be furloughed.

The best way to tell this is to see how you're taxed. If you're taxed through PAYE, then you're considered as an employee, so you should have the same rights as an employee – read more about what those are.

If you are PAYE, then one of your rights is that you're eligible for furlough (the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), where the Government will pay 80% of your salary up to £2,500/month. You'll need to discuss furlough with your employer, or the relevant agency or umbrella company where applicable. If you are put on furlough, you won't be able to do any work for them or on their behalf until the furlough ends.

The amount the Government will pay will be 80% of your usual pre-tax monthly salary, as it was on 28 February 2020 (if you earn fees, commission or bonuses on top of your usual salary, this won't be included).

If your pay varies from month to month – for example, because you're employed on a 'zero-hours' contract – the 80% will be calculated based on the higher of:

  • Your earnings in the same month of the previous year.
  • OR your average monthly earnings from the 2019/20 tax year.

If you've worked for your employer for less than a year, it'll be calculated based on your average monthly earnings while you've worked there.

If you are self-employed (therefore taxed through self-assessment and not PAYE), you won't be eligible to be furloughed, but you may be eligible for the support being offered to the self-employed, or be able to claim benefits.

For more info, see Martin's video below on zero-hours workers.

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Help for limited company directors whose small firms are struggling

Those who work via small limited companies that they're directors of (as many firms ask them to) have very limited state support available. Yet there is a small amount of wriggle room, which Martin works through in his 10-minute video guide below.

The video includes the following:

  • No official scheme exists for limited company directors. There's no cover for lost dividends, although many are lobbying for it.
  • Limited company directors, even if they're the only employee, can furlough the PAYE element of their income, ie, get 80% of their salary up to £2,500/month. This isn't likely to be huge, as more income is dividends (and there's no help there), but it's something.
  • If you do furlough yourself you can't then work for the firm, but you can continue to perform your statutory obligations as directors, eg, official legal filings (in the video Martin discusses how far this reaches).
  • Furlough can be for as short as three weeks, so there is flexibility if a project's coming through.
  • When furloughed, it seems acceptable that you can work for other people, so you could freelance yourself and work outside of your limited company.
  • Those struggling for income are likely eligible for, and so should also claim, universal credit.

Note: Limited company directors who do PAYE on an annual or monthly basis are eligible for furlough. However, you will need to have made a Real Time Information (RTI) submission (ie, you're on the payroll) on or before 19 March 2020 to be eligible.

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Martin has also spoken to HMRC chief executive Jim Harra on ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show, who has given further details on the support available for limited company directors.

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Limited company directors can use the Government's small business bounce back loans to SUPPORT THEIR INCOME

Since Monday 4 May, the new 100% state-backed bounce back loans, for up to £50,000, have been available. They're interest-free and payment-free in the first year – so pay it off then and it's no cost, and at a very low 2.5% annual interest after that.

Normally we don't cover business finance, but Martin wanted to here, as he had an inkling you could effectively turn this into a state support scheme for those who've missed out on the official ones, ie, newly self-employed, self-employed with £50,000+ profits, limited company directors (to an extent) and more.

We've now had it officially CONFIRMED there's nothing in the loan rules stopping you using these loans to support your income (though there can be tax/regulation issues depending on your firm's structure). Of course it's far from ideal – these are loans, not grants – but it's an option. So we've rapidly put together our new Bounce Back Loans guide to give you the lowdown, including...

- How bounce back loans work and what they cost.
- Bank-by-bank rundown of what's on offer.
- How to use them to support your income.
- Detailed Q&A with the Treasury.

Warning – watch out for coronavirus scams

scams signpost

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

Action Fraud has already identified thousands of reports of fraud relating to coronavirus since February, with victims' losses totalling more than £5 million. Many of these are online shopping scams where victims have tried to buy products such as protective face masks and hand sanitiser from fraudsters. There have also been over 4,400 reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails designed to trick people into opening malicious attachments or revealing sensitive information.

A common tactic used by scammers is to send messages purporting to be from research groups linked with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, or the World Health Organisation. Some claim to be able to provide a list of people infected with Covid-19, which links to a malicious website or asks the victim to make a payment in Bitcoin.

Other common phishing emails include those pretending to be from the Government, sending articles about the coronavirus outbreak with links to fake company websites, or sending details of investment schemes which encourage people to take advantage of the coronavirus downturn.

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

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.