All my Blogs over the last three weeks have focused the government’s financial aid to businesses and individuals coping with the COVID-19 crisis. However, clients increasingly ask what other support is available for additional costs, for both the employed and self-employed.
These costs are wide-ranging and cover a variety of regular household bills, ranging from Council Tax to your mobile ‘phone bill. So, I’ve done my research and have set out below what additional help is, or soon will be, available:
The government is to provide a £500m hardship fund to local councils, to help working-age people with low earnings and other vulnerable groups, through local welfare. This hardship fund is on top of the existing hardship relief for those individuals experiencing exceptional hardship for reasons beyond their control.
Most councils have suspended Council Tax payments due for April and May by the simple expedient of changing the payment year. So instead of collecting Council Tax starting in April and finishing in January, you now start paying in June and end the following March.
Please remember, you’re Council Tax hasn’t been reduced, but merely deferred. To the point when the financial help as a result of the various schemes brought in by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are actually released into people’s bank accounts. People are likely to receive money between late May and early June.
And to answer a question that will undoubtedly be asked by many of you. The £500m hardship fund is mostly to cover the business rates relief, which I’ve covered in earlier Coronavirus Blogs.
Utilities: Gas & Electricity bills
On 18th March the Chancellor announced new measures for those struggling to pay their gas or electricity bill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Treasury has obtained the leading energy suppliers’ agreement to support any of their customers in financial distress. Two different options will be offered by energy firms, with either your debt payments or your bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused.
To obtain additional information on what your energy supplier can do to help in this time of crisis, Which Magazine has a handy help page to assist you further; so please click on the following link for more information: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/help-with-energy-bills-announced-by-uk-government/
Utilities: Water and sewage bills
Regrettably, the Chancellor hasn’t announced any special measures to help households to cope with any financial hardship brought about by the impact of coronavirus.
Ofwat, the economic regulator of the water sector in England and Wales, has advised that customers should get in contact with their water supplier for help if they can’t afford their bill. Ofwat has put pressure on those suppliers to be as flexible as possible in providing that help.
Ofwat has said that it expects companies to consider schemes such as payment holidays and continue to help customers pay their bills through WaterSure, Social Tariffs and other affordability schemes. The regulator has also instructed companies to ensure that their customers are aware such schemes are available in the event that someone is struggling to pay their bills.
Vehicle excise duty (VED) & MOT’s
The bad news is that VED, better known as Car Tax, is not being suspended. However, what DVLA is urging motorists to do in these times when a lot of vehicles will not be used for many weeks and perhaps months, is to register your vehicle as off the road by making a ‘Statutory Off Road Notification’ (SORN).
By making a SORN, you will not pay a penny until you put your car back on the road and you can apply to DVLA by going to: https://www.gov.uk/make-a-sorn
Additionally, DVLA has also announced that MOT tests in the UK from 30th March will defer for six months due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The changes are a reactive response which will allow vital workers to still go about their daily duties using their vehicles.
On 1st April, the cost of a colour TV licence went up £3 to £157.50 a year. However, the BBC has delayed the move to scrap free TV licences for over-75s until 1st August because of coronavirus.
Unfortunately, everyone else will have to pay, but if you contact https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk help is available for those in genuine hardship.
Mobile telephone bills
All the main networks: EE, BT Mobile, O2, Vodafone and Three are giving customers unlimited access to NHS websites without using any of their standard data allowances.
Additionally, some of the mobile ‘phone companies are going even further:
- Vodafone will give 30 days of free, unlimited data for all pay-monthly customers, as well as automatically giving the same help to other pay-monthly customers it considers as vulnerable.
- Virgin Media have offered 2.7 million pay-monthly mobile customers unlimited minutes to landlines and mobiles from 23rd March plus 10GB of free data for a month. With a broad hint that it will continue these measures during the UK lockdown.
- Sky Mobile has also offered a free 10GB boost and free UK calls to landlines up to 30th April, and similar to Virgin, have hinted that they may well extend the scheme.
Tax accountant’s Summary
The above help list is not exhaustive. Many organisations, both quasi-governmental and private, seem to be waiting to see if the lockdown is likely to extend well beyond April before offering genuine help.
In my opinion, those organisations who delay too long or only offer token help will suffer in the long run from a customer backlash.
As usual, as and when more information becomes available, I will post updates on our website as well as my regular weekly Blog, posted on the website on Fridays.
If you would like more detailed information on some aspect of UK Tax, send me an e-mail and I’ll be pleased to advise further.