We await further details from the UK Government and will post updates on this page.
Local authority benefits
Council Tax bills for 2020/21 were issued last month and we know that there will be individuals and families who have been impacted by the COVID-19 emergency and who now see a reduction in their income.
If you are in this position, you may qualify for a Council Tax Reduction which can reduce the amount of Council Tax you need to pay.
Council Tax Reduction online form
Please complete the online application form and provide evidence of your current household income and we can also backdate Council Tax Reduction for a period of time.
We will be sympathetic to individual circumstances and we can arrange to defer or reduce payments for a while if this would be helpful. In addition, we will not be pursuing legal action against people who cannot pay as a result of this emergency.
As you will appreciate, our phone lines are very busy with people who need immediate help with food, medicines and care at home among many other emergencies, so please email us at Council.Tax@east-ayrshire.gov.uk giving details of what your issue is and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Council tax reduction earnings limit increased
The Scottish Government have increased the earnings disregard limit for Council Tax Reduction to take account of temporary increase in working tax credit basic element. This will see the weekly earnings disregard increase by £20 to £37.10 per week for the 2020/21 tax year, coming into effect from 6 April 2020 and ceasing on 4 April 2021.
Scottish welfare fund
Given the government’s recent announcement for people to stay at home we have changed the way we process Scottish Welfare Fund applications.
We strongly advise those customers applying for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to use the online application form rather than making a telephone application. Completing the form online will mean that we can process your application faster.
Given the pressure on the service we ask that you do not phone the Scottish Welfare Fund telephone number.
The Scottish Government have meantime relaxed the three applications in a year rule for the Scottish Welfare Fund during the Coronavirus outbreak as this period is considered to be ‘exceptional circumstances’ in which additional applications can be considered.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have announced the following changes to Housing Benefit calculations for those employees affected by the COVID-19 outbreak:
- the rate of the additional earnings disregard is increased from £17.10 to £37.10, with effect from 6 April 2020 to 4 April 2021, to take into account the temporary increase in the basic element of working tax credit (WTC)
- increases to the basic element of WTC will be applied to claims in batches over a 35 day period from 9 April 2020, which will result in the increase from 6 April 2020 being paid as arrears, which will be treated as capital and can be disregarded for 52 weeks
- claimants who have been furloughed, or whose hours have been reduced temporarily, will continue to be entitled to WTC as they will be treated as still working their normal hours for eight weeks after which entitlement will be reviewed. This means they will also continue to be entitled to the additional earnings disregard for the same period.
Registering a birth/child benefit
HMRC has announced that parents of newborns can claim child benefit without registering the child's birth while General Register Offices are closed as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Setting out the new measure today, HMRC says that, while first time parents will need to fill in Child Benefit Claim form CH2 and send it to the Child Benefit Office, they should add a note to the claim if they have been unable to register the birth because of COVID-19.
HMRC also advises that, if people are already in receipt of child benefit, they can complete the form or add their new-born’s details over the phone on 0300 200 3100.
Social security benefits and news
People presently in receipt of benefits
Special arrangements will be in place for people in receipt of benefits who cannot attend reassessments or jobcentre appointments because they are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus:
- Claimants who cannot attend a reassessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit will continue to receive their payments while their assessment is rearranged
- People who need to claim ESA or Universal Credit because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a Fit Note
- When claimants advice Jobcentres in good time that they are staying at home or that they have been diagnosed with coronavirus, they will not be sanctioned. The Jobcentre will review their conditionality requirements in their claimant commitment, to ensure they are reasonable.
- Claimants who are staying at home as a result of coronavirus will have their mandatory work search and work availability requirements removed to account for a period of sickness
People who require to make a new claim for benefits
People who are required to stay at home or are infected by coronavirus may need financial support, and quickly:
- Those affected by coronavirus will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive an advance without physically attending a Jobcentre.
- The seven waiting days for Employment and Support Allowance for new claimants suffering from coronavirus or required to stay at home will not apply, so it will be payable from day one. However anyone required to make a claim for Universal Credit will still have to serve a five week waiting period before they receive their first payment
Prisoners on temporary release
Individuals on temporary release from prison can access means-tested benefits, including Housing Benefit, during the period of that release if their release is due to the coronavirus outbreak.
From 6 April the government is increasing the standard allowance of Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credits for one year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.
If you need to make a claim for Universal Credit, visit the Department of Work and Pensions website.
This means that for a single Universal Credit claimant (aged 25 or over), the standard allowance will increase from £317.82 to £409.89 per month.
If you are in work and already claiming Universal Credit, and are staying at home on Government advice, you should report this in the usual way via your online journal. If this means you are working fewer hours, the amount of Universal Credit you receive will adjust as your earnings change.
People who are deaf can access help with their Universal Credit claim via an online video relay service on the GOV.UK website.
If you are unsure whether you will qualify for Universal Credit, please contact our Universal Credit Support Team:
They can offer one to one telephone support in making a claim and can assist with debt advice or any aspect of Universal Credit.
Please be aware that if you are currently in receipt of tax credits, a claim for universal credit will automatically end your entitlement to tax credits even if you are not entitled to universal credit. The UK Government are currently looking to see what they can do to help claimants who have lost their entitlement to Tax Credits as a result of claiming Universal Credit and are now worse off as a result.
Meanwhile, the UK Government have announced that they are stopping third party deductions from Universal Credit until May 2020 to help ease the financial burden on recipients. These include rent arrears, service charge arrears and council tax arrears. Direct payments for rent will continue and are not affected by this temporary pause.
Don’t call us - we’ll call you
DWP have confirmed that no one needs to call Universal Credit regarding their new claim to benefit as they deal with an unprecedented demand for the service. If they need to clarify any information to process your claim, the DWP will call you.
New style employment and support allowance
People should apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) where they are not already claiming Universal Credit. For full guidance and to apply online please visit the GOV.UK website.
When a New Style Employment and Support Allowance claim is taken over the phone the DWP will verify a person’s identity at the same time. Claimants do not need to complete a form.
From 3 April 2020, the Scottish Government have changed regulations that now allow a temporary adjustment to entitlement rules to Carer’s Allowance. This change allows carers to retain their entitlement if they have a temporary break in caring as a result of isolation due to, or infection or contamination with, coronavirus of either the carer or the person cared for.
The regulations also disapply the normal requirement to have provided care over a certain number of weeks in order to continue to qualify for carer’s allowance during a break in care.
Both changes will last for a period of eight months.
Meanwhile the DWP have confirmed that providing emotional support rather than just more traditional forms of care to a disabled person will also now count towards the Carer’s Allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) face to face interviews
Face-to-face assessments for all sickness and disability benefits will be suspended for the next three months.
The temporary move, effective on Tuesday 17 March 2020, is being taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to coronavirus as the country’s response ramps up in the ‘delay’ phase. The DWP will ensure those who are entitled to a benefit continue to receive support, and that new claimants are able to access claims.
This affects claimants of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and some on Universal Credit, and recipients of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments also covers new claims to those benefits.
DWP suspend benefit reviews and extend awards
The DWP have suspended all benefits reviews and re-assessments with an immediate effect for a period of three months.
The benefits affected include:
- Universal Credit (UC)
- Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
- Personal Independence Payments (PIP)
- Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance (AA) and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIB)
Until the end of July, those with Disability Benefits whose award is due for a review, will have their benefit entitlement extended for a further six month period.
This only applies to DWP instigated reviews. Claimants with a change of circumstances which would lead to a review of benefit entitlement should notify the DWP of that change in the normal manner.
DWP to suspend debt recovery actions
The DWP are to suspend debt recovery actions from all benefit-related overpayments, social fund loans, tax credit debts as well as any deductions under the Eligible Loan Deduction Scheme.
Many activities will cease immediately but others may take longer to implement. The suspension of recovery action is in place until further notice but will be in place for a minimum of three months.
What this means:
- Deductions from Universal Credit and Legacy for benefit overpayments, social fund loans and tax credit debts managed by debt management will be suspended. This action will commence immediately but an IT solution will need to be implemented to stop some deductions for debt management.
- The recovery of advances by deduction from Universal Credit payments will continue.
- Local authorities will suspend referral of Housing Benefit overpayments.
- The transfer of tax credit debt from HMRC has already been suspended.
- Recovery from estates will temporarily cease.
For clients who are not on benefits, private sector debt collection agencies have been instructed to stop their activity for debt management customers whilst the DWP are also suspending voluntary debt repayments and recovery by direct earnings attachments.
Please note the part that recovery of advances will continue.
With immediate effect, all Jobcentres have been closed to the public unless they are directed to do so and have been given an appointment. This is to allow 10,000 DWP staff to be move into benefit processing roles to deal with the huge increase in benefit claims.
Business, employees and self-employed
Employees and self-employed
To make sure people in work can take the necessary time off to stay at home if they are suffering from coronavirus or to prevent its spread, changes have been made to Statutory Sick Pay and how Universal Credit supports self-employed claimants.
- People who cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of their illness. This measure to apply retrospectively from 13 March.
- Statutory Sick Pay will be payable to people who are staying at home on government advice, not just those who are infected, this measure will apply from 13 March. Employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for. This will cease on 1 August 2020.
- If employees need to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to coronavirus, they will be able to get it from NHS 111 online instead of having to get a Fit Note from their doctor. This is currently under development and will be made available soon.
- Self-employed claimants on Universal Credit who are required to stay at home or are ill as a result of coronavirus will not have a Minimum Income Floor (an assumed level of income) applied for a period of time while affected.
Statutory sick pay
To ensure businesses are supported to deal with the temporary economic impacts of an outbreak of coronavirus, Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay for employees unable to work because of coronavirus. This refund will be for up to two weeks per employee. Further assistance has been given in the recent UK Government budget including:
- this refund will cover up to two weeks SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
- employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible - the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
- employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
- employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note
- eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to those staying at home comes into force
- The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible
Those considered incapable of work due to the coronavirus has been extended to include people who are shielding as a result of public health guidance defining them as extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition.
From 26 May, employers who:
- on 28 February 2020, had fewer than 250 employees enrolled in all PAYE schemes operated by the employer; and
- on 31 December 2019, was not already in difficulty for State aid purposes
can apply to HMRC for a refund of SSP where:
- that employee’s period of incapacity for work is related to coronavirus; and
- the first day of incapacity for work in that period falls on or after 13 March 2020.
The UK Government have announced that from 1 August 2020, all SSP entitlement to those who are in the shielding category will cease.
Coronavirus job retention scheme
The UK Government have announced this scheme where they will pay up to 80% of the wages due to a ‘furloughed worker’. This is someone who has been retained on the company’s payroll during the coronavirus outbreak rather than having been paid off from employment.
The scheme has been backdated to 1 March 2020 and will run until the end of October 2020.
Your employer may pay the additional 20% of your salary during this time but there is no requirement for them to do so. However during your period as a furloughed worker up to the end of July 2020, you should not undertake any work for your employer, provided that you had been in employment with your employer before 19 March 2020.
The UK Government recently announced changes for winding down the scheme:
- Between June and August 2020, the government will continue to pay 80 per cent of the wages of furloughed workers up to a monthly cap of £2,500, but from August employers will need to take on responsibility for the payment of employer national insurance and pension contributions
- During September 2020, the government will only pay 70 per cent of wages, up to a cap of £2,187.50
- During October 2020, the government will pay 60 per cent of wages up to a cap of £1,875
- From 1 July 2020, employers will be given the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part-time
- Employees will only be eligible to be furloughed from 1 July 2020, provided they had previously been furloughed for at least three weeks between 1 March and 30 June 2020
In the case of part-time working, the furlough payment will be made in respect of hours not worked, and the monthly cap will be proportional to hours not worked.
Please note, should you during this period apply for any of the following benefits; your normal ‘non-furloughed’ pay will be used for the calculation of your income
- statutory maternity pay
- statutory adoption pay
- statutory paternity pay
- statutory shared parental pay
- statutory parental bereavement pay
- maternity allowance
Meanwhile anyone receiving tax credits will continue to receive their usual entitlement and are not required to notify HMRC of a change in their income.
Financial assistance for the self-employed
Newly self-employed hardship fund
The Scottish Government have launch a £34m Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund to support those self-employed workers who do not qualify for the UK Government's Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (see below) primarily because they became self-employed in the 2019/20 tax year.
The scheme will be open for applications at the end of April with the first payment of a £2000 grant being made in early May
Self-employed income support scheme
The UK Government have announce a package of support for people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment and earn less than £50,000 per annum.
The support will be 80% of your average monthly earnings but will be capped to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The grant will be paid in a lump sum and is taxable. It is expected to be paid in June but may be earlier and will be backdated to March.
You will be able to claim a final grant in August 2020, worth 70 per cent of your average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months worth of profits and capped at £6,570 in total.
The payment will be calculate on a self-employed persons average monthly profit/earnings over the past three years based on their tax returns to HMRC. If you have been self-employed and only submitted tax returns over the past one or two years, then the entitlement will be calculated on an average of those figures. If you have still to a tax return for this year, late tax returns will be accepted up to the end of April.
If you have only recently commenced self-employment and not yet submitted a tax return to HMRC, you will be ineligible for the grant and will have to make a claim for Universal Credit.
HMRC will contact all those who are eligible and invite them to claim for the payment. The scheme opens on 13 May with payments being made within six days of the claim being made
Meanwhile anyone receiving tax credits will continue to receive their usual entitlement and are not required to notify HMRC of a change in their income.
Small business grant
In addition, the Scottish Government have announced a grant of at least £3,000 available to small businesses affected by the economic downturn. Whilst full details are awaited, it is specifically designed for business in sectors worst affected by the economic downturn due to the coronavirus.
From May, the UK Government are launching a loan scheme directed at small to medium businesses who may borrow interest free, sums from £2,000 - £50,000. The government will cover all interest charges for the first year, thereafter companies will be asked to start to repay the loan.
Latest news updates
Social Security Scotland
Social security timescales in Scotland have been extended where a delay is as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result any:
- late applications for assistance through any of the devolved benefits will be accepted where the lateness is due to coronavirus. In addition, the amendments allow for a late application to be accepted and considered where a person has passed the age limit for assistance, and would otherwise lose their entitlement to assistance, where the application could not be made earlier due to coronavirus.
- reasons relating to coronavirus will be accepted as 'good reasons' for extending the time limit for redeterminations and appeals by one year.
- the timescale for Social Security Scotland to complete redeterminations is extended by nine weeks on top of the current 16 working days.
These changes will be in force at least until 30 September 2020.
In addition the Scottish Government has temporarily changed eligibility for a number of social security benefits if a claim could not be made due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus.
- Best Start Grant: If someone does not get any other benefits, they normally need to be under 18 to be eligible for Best Start Grant but they can now apply after they turned 18.
- Pregnancy and baby payment: A baby normally needs to be under six months old for a parent to be eligible for Pregnancy and Baby Payment but applications may be considered after this age.
- Early Learning Payment: A child normally needs to be between two and three years six months for a parent or carer to be eligible for Early Learning Payment. If they could not apply before then an application will still be considered.
- Funeral Support Payment: If a person could not apply for Funeral Support Payment within six months of the funeral taking place an application will still be considered.
- Young Carer Grant: A young carer normally needs to be under 19 years old but an application after their 19th birthday will still be considered.
The Scottish Government will pay out an extra £230.10 to all carers in the form of a Coronavirus Carers Supplement payment in June in recognition of the contribution carers are making at this time.
New benefits delayed
The Scottish Government have suspended the implementation of the Scottish Child Payment and the new Disability Assistance benefits, some of which were due to commence this autumn, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The implementation of the Job Start Grant, due in March 2020, has also been delayed.
Social Security Secretary, Shirley-Anne Sommerville, announced that the government hope to be in a position to take applications for the new benefits with priority being given to the Scottish Child Payment.
HMRC change of contact number
As people across the UK are staying at home, HMRC have noticed some strain on their network provider.
HMRC have now changed their helpline number to ensure those needing help and support can keep reaching their advisers.
The new helpline number is 0800 024 1222 and is open from 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday. Calls to the old helpline number will be redirected.
Housing and energy costs
The Scottish Government have confirmed a six month ban on tenants being evicted from their homes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The ban applies to all tenants in rented accommodation whether they be in private rented or social housing sector. The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has also confirmed that no tenant will be evicted during this crisis.
If your income suffers as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), please be assured that whatever happens, your tenancy will not be affected. We can help you, whatever your financial circumstances. We can look at deferring your rent payments or reduced payments until your income stabilises. Contact your local Neighbourhood Coach on 01563 554400 to discuss your individual financial circumstances. All calls are treated in confidence.
The UK Government have announced measures that people with Mortgages who are in financial difficulty as a result of the coronavirus will be offered at least a three month mortgage holiday – so that people will not have to pay a penny towards their mortgage while they get back on their feet. You should contact your mortgage lender directly for more information
From April, Local Housing Allowance rates will be increased to the 30th percentile of market rents. This will apply to all private renters who are new or existing Universal Credit housing element claimants, and to existing Housing Benefit claimants.
The Scottish Government have announced a £5m loan fund to help small private landlords with five properties or less whose tenants are unable to pay their rent due to the coronavirus.
Help with fuel/energy costs
The government have agreed new emergency measures with energy companies to ensure the domestic supply of those most in need during the current coronavirus pandemic.
With immediate effect customers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit to their meter can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied. This will benefit over four million customers.
This could include:
- nominating a third party for credit top ups
- having a discretionary fund added to their credit, or
- being sent a pre-loaded top up card so that their supply is not interrupted
Any customer in financial difficulties will also be supported by their supplier, which could include debt repayments and bill payments being reassessed, reduced or paused where necessary, while disconnection of credit meters will be completely suspended.
Read more on the GOV.UK website
Student hardship funds
The Scottish Government have announced a £5 million package of emergency financial support is being put in place to help students facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Extra cash will be available to any university and college students now struggling as a result of COVID-19, including those attending private institutions.
The package includes an additional £2.2 million for Scotland’s Higher Education (HE) Discretionary Fund which university and college students will be able to apply for directly to their own institutions.
Other details of the package include:
- £100,000 available to support around 1,000 students studying with private providers, administered by Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) and paid directly to affected students
- a three-month suspension by SAAS of all new debt recovery actions in respect to grants and bursaries, for students whose circumstances have changed and therefore may have to return overpayments
- an extension of the Care-Experienced Accommodation Grant from early April allowing eligible students to access support of a non-repayable grant of up to £105 per week - this is eight weeks earlier than usual benefiting around 200 students worth an estimated £200,000
Banking and finance
Most banks are offering support to people worried and affected by the Coronavirus. They are highlighting the support they may be able to give due to financial impact may be caused by:
- delay in income
- reduction in income/increase expenditure
- unexpected loss of income
- serious change in circumstance
The Financial Conduct Authority have also introduced temporary measures for banks to assist customers who are finding it difficult to manage their finances. These measures include:
- A temporary payment freeze on loans and credit cards where consumers face difficulties with their finances as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), for up to three months
- Ensure that for customers who have been hit financially by coronavirus (COVID-19) and already have an arranged overdraft on their main personal current account, up to £500 will be charged at zero interest for up to three months
- Require banks and other financial companies to make sure that all overdraft customers are no worse off on price when compared to the prices they were charged before the recent overdraft changes came into force
- Ensure consumers using any of these temporary measures should not have their credit rating affected because of this
These measures cover all regulated assistance including guarantor loans, logbook loans, home collected credit, a loan issued by Community Development Finance Institution and some loans issued by credit unions, but only where these are regulated.
If you are experiencing financial problems as a result of the impact of coronavirus, please contact your bank directly.
Post office card account
For information on your Post Office Card Account please visit the Post Office website.
Access to your cash instead of card or online banking
Those who are shielding or vulnerable citizens who need access to their cash can take advantage of the Post Office extending two schemes they administer, Payout Now and Fast PACE.
Anyone requiring this service should contact their bank, building society or credit union to see if they are participating in this service to allow them to access their account through their local Post Office with assistance from a friend, family member, carer or support worker.
Payout Now is a voucher based product sent by SMS text, email or post to self-isolating customer who can share it with a trusted individual to withdraw cash on their behalf.
In order to take advantage of this service offered by Post Office, a customer needs to:
- Contact their bank, building society or credit union who will be able to issue a barcode voucher to their customer
- The one time use barcode voucher will be issued for a nominated amount and will be sent to the customer via SMS text, email or post
- The barcode voucher can be exchanged in a Post Office branch on their behalf by a family member, friend, carer or volunteer for cash
Fast PACE is a service that allows a customer to arrange for a trusted individual to collect the cheque from them, cash it at Post Office, and return with the cash.
In order to take advantage of this service offered by Post Office, a customer needs to:
- Contact their bank and inform them that they want to withdraw cash using the Fast Track Cheque Encashment service.
- The bank will then inform the Post Office of the maximum cheque amount they are allowed to cash.
- The customer can arrange for any family member, friend, carer or volunteer to collect the cheque from them. They complete the cheque as normal, payable to ‘The Post Office’, print the name on the back of the cheque of the third party collecting it for them and sign that side too.
- That person then presents the cheque with their own ID such as bank card or driving license. They can do this at the Post Office or any other Post Office that is open. They then take the cash back to the individual who is self-isolating whilst following safe social distancing guidelines.
- The Fast PACE service also means that if a helper has bought supplies for someone self-isolating, they can be reimbursed immediately by simply presenting the customer’s cheque at any Post Office.
View our latest funding alerts where funds are being made available to charities and communities groups affected by or working to deal with coronavirus (COVID-19).
Many local advice services are no longer doing face to face appointments or home visits until further notice. Advice and assistance will still be offered via telephone.
Visit our food provision page for more details