For those worried about paying utility bills or credit cards, loans, or mortgages due to the impact of coronavirus, this article sets out the steps you can take to get the support you need.
In the first instance, people struggling with essential bills are encouraged to:
- Contact your provider
If you think you might have a problem paying a bill, contact your provider as early as possible to explain, and receive help with paying your bills
- Ask for help if you need it
If you are struggling with your bills or credit commitments, free advice is available.
Coronavirus has affected the entire nation and many of us need support now, even if we never have before.
- Explore payment options
If you are struggling with bills, it is better to agree a payment plan with your provider and make smaller, but regular instalments, rather than letting debt build up to a point you are in difficulty.
It is a particularly difficult time for households across the UK, with many struggling to keep up with bills, loan payments and mortgages due to the impact of COVID-19. The government, regulators and industry acted quickly in March to assist as many people as possible, with measures including mortgage holidays, and support for energy, water, and telecoms customers.
We would strongly urge anybody who is struggling to speak with their providers, seek help and explore the payment options open to them.
In response to the impact of coronavirus, the government has agreed a good number of measures with providers across a range of sectors to ensure struggling consumers are treated fairly.
These agreements cover the following sectors.
The government has agreed a set of principles with domestic energy suppliers to support consumers impacted by coronavirus. Energy companies will try to identify and prioritise customers who may need additional support, considering Priority Service Register customers, prepayment meter customers, and customers who are vulnerable to having a cold home.
Based on individual circumstances, firms may offer support such as:
- reassessing, reducing
- pausing debt repayment and bill payments for domestic customers in financial distress referring customers who are struggling to pay to third party debt advisers
- suspending credit meter disconnections.
Firms will also support prepayment meter customers directly or indirectly impacted by coronavirus to stay on supply.
Based on individual circumstances, support could include:
- extending discretionary/ friendly credit or sending out a pre-loaded top up card
- enabling customers to nominate a trusted third party to be able to pick up discretionary credit sent to a shop on their behalf
- switching smart prepayment meters into credit mode or extending non-disconnection periods with consumers being made aware of any credit which will need to be paid back
- contacting prepayment customers with advice on what to do in the event of self-isolation
The government and Ofwat, the economic regulator of the water sector in England and Wales, remain in close contact with water companies on the water industry’s response to coronavirus.
All water companies have measures in place for people who struggle to pay for their water and wastewater services, these include:
- helping customers to pay their bills through WaterSure, Social Tariffs and other schemes
- offering payment breaks or payment holidays
- adjusting payment plans to help with sudden changes in household finances
- simplifying the processes for customers to get extra assistance
- helping customers get advice on benefits and managing debts
The government is working closely with providers to ensure they treat customers who are struggling to pay their bills, and to help them stay connected.
Firms are being asked to:
- prioritise support for customers who are struggling to pay their bills
- offer advice on managing telecoms debt and strengthen their work with other organisations who could help
- offer options to struggling customers, such as payment plans, cheaper tariffs, or a delay on their payment
- avoid disconnection for struggling customers, treating it only as a last resort
At the start of the pandemic in March, guidance was approved which set out that firms should offer mortgage payment holidays. Mortgage holidays allow customers affected by coronavirus to defer making up to 6 monthly mortgage payments (although interest will still accrue during this period).
The FCA and government have also been in close contact with mortgage lenders and administrators to make sure they treat consumers fairly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures agreed with lenders include:
- providing consumers with options when their payment holiday comes to an end to ensure they continue to get support they need
- not repossessing homes before 31 January 2021, except in exceptional circumstances
5. Loans, credit cards overdrafts, motor finance and other forms of credit
The FCA has stepped in to make sure those having temporary difficulties meeting loan or credit commitments due to coronavirus can request payment deferrals of up to 6 months in total, on:
- a personal loan, credit card, store card or catalogue credit product
- motor finance or leasing payments
- buy-now-pay-later agreements
- rent-to-own agreements
- pawnbroking agreements
If people are having difficulties meeting payments due to coronavirus, they can also request a payment deferral on a high-cost short-term credit loan for at least 1 month.
Consumers have until 31 March 2021 to apply for an initial or further payment deferral. After that date, they will be able to extend existing deferrals to 31 July 2021, provided the extensions cover consecutive payments, and subject to the maximum 6 allowed.
Consumers who have already had 6 months of payment deferrals or who are receiving tailored support will not be eligible for a further payment deferral. Instead, firms will provide tailored support appropriate to the customers circumstances. This may include the option to defer further payments.
Consumers who are struggling with the cost of their overdrafts will be able to request support which reflects their individual circumstances, as set out in the FCA’s tailored support guidance published in September 2020. This could include reducing or waiving interest.
The FCA has agreed a range of options that insurers may consider appropriate to help customers, including:
- reviewing cover based on risk/needs to reduce premiums
- waiving administration and cancellation fees
- partly refunding premium payments where the whole amount has been paid up front
- providing tailored support appropriate to the customers circumstances
The government has acted to protect renters during the pandemic by suspending eviction proceedings for 6 months, to 20 September, as well as changing the law to extend the notice period landlords must give their tenants to 6 months, except in the most serious cases, until at least the end of March 2021.
As well as this, the government has provided a full package of support to help prevent people getting into financial hardship or rent arrears because of coronavirus.
There has been £9.3 billion of additional support through the welfare system this year, this includes an extra £1 billion to increase Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents.
This will remain in place until the end of March 2021 for those renters who require additional support, there is also an existing £180 million of government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments made available this year, an increase of £40 million from last year and which is for councils to distribute to support renters with housing costs.
If you are a tenant and you are struggling to pay their rent, they should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity to allow both parties to agree a workable way forward.
You may also wish to seek advice from specialist providers such as:
- Citizens Advice
- The Money Advice Service
8. Council tax
Each local authority has its own scheme which provides reductions in council tax for low-income residents. There may also be other support available, including the range of discounts and exemptions that can be applied to council tax.
- Rent reductions during Covid-19
- New How to Rent guides released
- Rent Arrears & Debt Extension
- Tenant FAQs
- Tenant Resources