The latest national lockdown has forced millions more workers onto furlough, meaning months of cuts to their income.
Under new rules introduced on January 4, non-essential shops, restaurants, gyms and more must stay shut, with schools also closed to help curb the latest coronavirus outbreak.
So what support is in place for those who have been hit by the latest restrictions?
The furlough scheme has already been extended to pay 80% of employee wages until April – with employers urged to offer this to parents who are home-schooling.
New £9,000 business grants have also been introduced by Rishi Sunak to support high street shops in crisis, The Mirror reports.
Struggling households can also apply for Universal Credit while those self-isolating can get £500 to tide them over for a fortnight.
It comes as driving lessons and evictions have also been banned across England.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Free school meal vouchers
Schools in England are closed until at least February half term, with free school meal vouchers extended to reflect this.
Currently, more than 1.3million vulnerable children are eligible for state-subsidised meals. It’s available to 4-16-year-olds whose parents or guardians claim the following:
- Income support
- Income-based jobseeker’s allowance
- Income-related employment and support allowance
- Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
- The guaranteed element of pension credit
- Child tax credit (provided you’re not also entitled to working tax credit and have an annual income of no more than £16,190)
- Working tax credit run-on – paid for four weeks after you stop qualifying for working tax credit
- Universal Credit – if you applied on or after April 1, 2018 your household income is less than £7,400 a year (after tax and not including any benefits you get)
Families can apply for the support via their child’s school or local authority.
Start by entering your postcode into the Gov.uk website to check your local council’s guidelines.
If you claim housing benefit or council tax support already, you can apply for free school meals on the same form.
2. Sick pay for extremely vulnerable workers
If you’re unable to work from home but are classed as ‘extremely vulnerable’, you should be able to claim sick pay for your time off work over the third lockdown.
Under new rules, people in this category are advised to stay at home unless they have a medical appointment.
There will be no food parcels for those at risk, however some supermarkets have increased their online delivery slots. If you have friends of family nearby, you may be able to ask them to assist with essentials from the supermarket.
Those unable to leave home may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Speak to your employer about your options.
Don’t forget, you can also get a £500 one-off payment if you’re unable to work because you’ve tested positive for Covid-19.
3. Weddings cancelled
Weddings won’t go ahead under new guidelines unless you have an exceptional circumstance, such as a terminal illness.
If your plans have been thrown into disarray, contact your wedding venue to reschedule or for a full refund.
The law states that if you are legally entitled to a full refund if your ceremony has been cancelled due to lockdown.
Consumers are even entitled to refunds on ‘non-refundable’ deposits and other advance payments.
The wedding business may, however, be able to withhold certain amounts relating to expenses it has already incurred in respect of the wedding, such as charges for bespoke decorations. In this case, the business should reschedule your booking.
4. House moves and viewings
Last year, when the Government paused viewings and ordered all estate agents to close, the property market hit a standstill. This time, it will remain open.
Some estate agents may close to drop-ins but in-person property viewings, valuations and surveys can still take place in line with Covid-secure guidelines.
As well as estate agents, construction sites and tradespeople can work as normal. So too can removal, property signage and cleaning companies as all are essential when it comes to end-of-tenancy moving, renting and selling homes.
5. Evictions banned
A partial eviction ban has been extended until March 8 after campaigners warned that half a million Brits were at risk after falling behind on rent.
Ministers have extended the ban on bailiff evictions, which was due to end on Monday, to ensure renters are not evicted while covid restrictions are in place.
The ban has been extended for six weeks until at least February 21, except for the most egregious cases, such as anti-social behaviour or extreme arrears.
This means bailiffs will not be able to remove people from properties until March 8 as they must give 14 days’ notice.
But Court hearings concerning potential evictions will continue, with prioritisation of cases such as those involving anti-social behaviour, illegal occupation and domestic abuse.
And it will remain the case that landlords seeking to evict tenants must give six months’ notice until the end of March.
The Government has also announced extra support for rough sleepers which includes councils being asked to make sure they register with GP surgeries.
English councils will be instructed to “redouble their efforts” to accommodate those on the streets during the lockdown, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.
They will also be asked to ensure rough sleepers are “swiftly” registered with a GP so they can be contacted and receive a coronavirus vaccine when it is their turn.
6. You can still get a mortgage holiday
Borrowers who have not yet had a mortgage holiday have until March 31 to request a six month break.
Those who have had their payments deferred already can extend their mortgage holiday until they reach the six-month limit.
During this period, interest will still accrue, however your credit score won’t be affected.
If you’ve already maxed out your support, speak to your bank or building society as they may be able to put you on a tailored support plan.
If you’ve decided that a payment holiday is the right solution for you, it’s best to apply online if your lender allows it.
7. Holidays cancelled – get a refund or a new date
Non-essential foreign and UK holidays are currently on hold in England to help contain the latest Covid-19 variant.
If you have a holiday booked, do not cancel your trip or flight.
It is essential that you wait to hear from your airline or holiday company.
If you cancel, you risk forfeiting your right to a refund. It your travel agent or airline cancels your package holiday, you are entitled to a full refund (which should be paid within 14 days). Alternatively you can accept a credit note or a new travel date.
8. Driving lessons and tests cancelled
The DVSA has confirmed that driving lessons and tests will not continue during the third lockdown.
If you have a test booked, you can request a full refund or a new date. The same applies if you have pre-booked lessons with an instructor.
9. Furlough extended to April
The Treasury has agreed to extend furlough in line with new closures, and it’s reinstating the 80% payout, meaning the government will foot the majority of your wages.
The new rules apply where workers cannot go to work. It includes those who have never been on furlough before.
It’ll stay at 80% of wages up to £2,500 a month but you can work part-time too.
All employees who were on a payroll submitted to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) before October 31 qualify.
10. Extra support for self-employed workers
The third Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) (for November to January) has been increased to 80% for 30-days – but applications close on January 29.
It was previously set at 40% however has been amended for the lockdown period. That means that over the three months it’s worth 55% up to a max £5,160. See who qualifies here.
To make a claim for the third grant your business must have been impacted by coronavirus on or after 1 November 2020.
You can make a claim for the third grant if you’re eligible, even if you did not make a claim for the first or second.
11. Work from home
People are being urged to work from home and it means you can get a tax break for the inconvenience.
If you’ve been required to work from home for even just one day since April 6, you can now claim tax relief for the whole year – worth up to £125.
This money can be spent on anything work-from-home related such as your broadband bill or extra stationary. You don’t need to submit proof, either.
People can find out more and make a claim at gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home. The amount you’ll receive will be paid directly through your salary.
12. Gyms closed
Gyms are closed, so if you’ve paid in advance, you should be allowed to pause, cancel or get a refund on your membership.
Many gyms are offering to suspend memberships by default.
The Competition & Markets Authority says that “where consumers have paid money in advance for services or goods that they have yet to receive, they will generally be entitled to obtain a refund”. With gyms, this is generally given as credit.
13. MOTs aren’t being extended
MOTs won’t be extended this time around so make sure your car is checked in good time.
This is because garages and service departments will be allowed to stay open over the third lockdown – but book in advance as many are likely to be short staffed.
14. Shop refund rights
When the UK went into lockdown last year, most retailers agreed to extend their returns periods to 90 days or more. The same rules apply this time around, however, as returns are not a statutory right (unless the item is faulty), it will be at the discretion of the retailer, not the law.
Generally, customers are advised to not return shop-bought goods online. If you’re concerned about your rights, contact the retailer directly.
15. You have longer to register a birth
In normal times, it is a legal requirement to register the birth of a child, in person, within 42 days.
That deadline has been relaxed since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Parents cannot usually apply for child benefit or universal credit until a birth is registered, but that rule has also been relaxed.
Sadly, but inevitably, registering a death is still possible, and can usually be done on the telephone.
16. Is writing a valid will still possible?
The pandemic has led to an amendment of a law in England and Wales that has been in place since 1837.
For a will to be valid, it needs to be signed in front of two present witnesses.
Now, witnessing a signature can be done by video link, but it must be in real time. This has been introduced until January 2022.
17. Cheques and banks deposits
Among the premises that can stay open – as with the first coronavirus lockdown – are banks and the Post Office.
Opening hours may be shorter, and those shielding should avoid visiting all outlets.
Many banks allow people to pay in cheques by submitting a photograph of it via their mobile app. Others accept cheques sent, with a paying-in slip or account number, through the post.
Bank customers can also pay in cheques, check their balance, and withdraw cash at the Post Office.
18. Energy meter top-ups
Four million people have prepayment energy meters and, pre-pandemic, some would normally have gone to a shop to top-up their credit. Many of these shops remain open.
However, in mid-December new rules from the regulator Ofgem required suppliers to offer emergency credit to customers who cannot top-up prepayment meters. If you’re stuck or self-isolating, speak to your provider.
19. Pension payments
Retired people who tend to collect their pension in cash may be shielding and unable to do so.
However, they will usually have a Post Office card account, so they will still be paid the money.
Thousands of people have a nominated trusted friend or family member who can withdraw cash from this account on their behalf.
20. Universal Credit is a lifeline
Those applying for universal credit – the main collective benefit for unemployment and housing support – do not need to visit a jobcentre.
Applications can be made online or over the phone.
You can check what support you’re entitled to, here.
21. Payday lenders and loans
Borrowers have the option to take a one-month payment holiday with payday loans any time before the end of March, assuming they have not taken one already.
Anyone who has already done so and is still struggling to repay must contact their lender to organise a repayment plan. Simply failing to pay can bring heavy charges.
For rent-to-own products, the rules are the same – except a payment holiday can be extended to six months.